Market housing part of athletes village plan 

Mayor hopes for provincial approval next week

Whistler has asked the province to allow for some market housing on the 2010 Olympic athletes village site.

It is just one of a host of things the municipality has asked for in its business plan as a way to make the athletes village financially feasible.

"We’re trying to give ourselves as much space to make this thing be as successful as possible and we had to accept the potential for incorporating market housing," said Mayor Ken Melamed after Tuesday’s council meeting.

"We’re not saying that (market housing is) going to be in there. We just had to put it in there as part of the business plan."

There are scant details available of the athletes village business plan.

Council and the board of directors of the Whistler 2020 Development Corporation, who are responsible for delivering the athletes village for the Olympics, approved the plan in closed meetings earlier this year. But they have yet to hear back from the province if it’s a go-ahead.

Despite that, Whistler council on Tuesday night began the rezoning of 107 acres (43 hectares) on the Lower Cheakamus site, across the highway from Function Junction.

The athletes village rezoning still hinges on a number of conditions, primarily approvals from the province to make it work financially, but Melamed explained that this step keeps the process moving along and should allow Whistler to stay on track for a spring groundbreaking.

"It allows us to move forward with the minimum number of delays," he said.

Taking this initial step to rezone also sends a message to the province that Whistler needs approval of its business plan as quickly as possible.

Essentially the business plan outlines various ways of funding the athletes village and Whistler needs the province to step up to the plate to make it work.

To date the Vancouver Organizing Committee is contributing $45.5 million toward the village, site servicing and associated facilities. That includes $26 million for the village, $13 million for an athletes training centre, and $6.5 million towards First Nations housing.

The sale of employee housing post Games was supposed to make up for the cost of building the village. But soaring construction costs have made that unrealistic.

The province is providing the land for the athletes village, part of a promised 300-acre land bank, but has restricted its use to employee housing.

Whistler is asking the province to relax the covenant on the land bank to allow some market housing. It is not clear how much market housing would be required to build the athletes village.

Melamed admits that asking for market housing goes against his personal philosophies of growth in Whistler. He has long been opposed to Whistler building its way out of a problem by adding more bed units, whether they are drawn down from the existing and quickly disappearing inventory or created anew.

In the same vein, he said, council is committed to fulfilling its Olympic commitments and building the athletes village to house 2,400 athletes and support staff during the Games.

The village will be transformed into housing for 1,500 to 2,000 residents after the Games.

"It’s our intention to try to complete the athletes village without market beds," said the mayor. "We do not want to approve new beds. We recognize that we might have to and we have to be prepared mentally to make the compromise. But we’re going to do everything in our power to try and bring it on without."

When asked what will happen if construction costs continue to skyrocket and Whistler needs to build even more market housing to make the athletes village work, Melamed paused.

He is well aware this is a controversial step for the town.

"We’re going to have to go to the community and see how they feel," he said. "The community obviously is going to have some sense of limit. This has been the challenge we’ve had since day one – how far are we willing to go?"

The mayor leaves for Victoria on Monday for meetings with the Resort Collaborative ministers and Premier Gordon Campbell. He is hoping to return home late next week with good news.

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