Misguided proposal not what Whistler needs 

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Next Thursday, there's an important public open house. You probably won't be there. I'm not even certain I'll be there. That's because both the timing and location—how best to put this?—sucks.

The open house is in regard to a rezoning application for 5298 Alta Lake Road, rezoning application RZ1157, a number you might reference if you want to comment to mayor and council about it. I'll get into the details below.

There have been numerous open house meetings over the past years. None have been as inconvenient as this one to attend. It runs from 7 to 9 p.m. It's being held at the Athlete's Centre ... in Cheakamus. If someone wanted to ensure sparse public attendance, one could not come up with a better time or place without holding it after midnight. In Squamish.

Ironically, there's a public hearing two days earlier on a zoning amendment bylaw. That one is for a project down in Cheakamus. It's being held at the Maury Young Arts Centre. Go figure.

RZ1157 is a proposed private-developer project to provide employee beds. Except it's not. It's a shameful example of just how misguided the whole private developer/employee housing scam has become, courtesy of our current council.

This part of the Mayor's Task Force on Resident Housing, which delivered its report at a public meeting in November 2017, was the single worst recommendation contained therein. It was poorly thought out, had virtually no detail, and it was clear from the questions I put to one of the committee staff on the task force no one had really thought this turkey through.

So what happened? Well, we got the universally condemned proposal for Garibaldi Way, a development you still can't mention to anyone who lives there without raising their blood pressure.

We got others. Some bad, some not so bad, some so bad the proponents should have been wearing masks and holding guns.

And now we've got RZ1157.

It involves a plot of land on Alta Lake Road north of the WHA Nita Lake development. The current zoning would allow the developers to build a seven-room boutique hotel, 25 tourist accommodation cabins (total gross floor area [GFA] of 3,500 square metres) and seven employee-housing cabins with a GFA of 800 sq. m.

The proposal asks for 22 three-bedroom tourist accommodation townhomes with a GFA of 4,400 sq. m., 15 three-bedroom employee townhomes with a GFA of 1,590 sq. m.—an increase of, well, a lot. And, of course, more bed units.

It also includes a parkland dedication and transfer of the old Hillman cabin thereto, an extension of the Valley Trail and a future employee-housing parcel.

A somewhat similar proposal was floated by the proponents last year but was withdrawn because it failed to meet the guidelines for private development of employee housing. To refresh your memory, those guidelines called for 100-per-cent employee rental housing.

So, what changed? The rules of the game, of course. In March this year, Christmas came early to developers hoping to cash in on building "employee" housing, compliments of Santa Resort Municipality of Whistler. The gift totally gutted the old guidelines. Developers could now sit up and beg for market housing to make their proposals, "support project viability, design quality and employee housing livability and affordability."

What exactly did that mean? Well, like the whole ridiculous scheme, it wasn't defined any more clearly than that! It meant the gravy train was pulling out and it was Let's-Make-a-Deal time at muni hall.

And so, we have RZ1157. How bad is it? Terrible. Here's why.

Let's start with those 15 employee townhomes. As reported in last week's Pique, the RMOW has taken a hard look at the purchase waitlist for those hoping to buy a WHA property ("RMOW takes deep dive into WHA purchase waitlist," Pique, Oct. 10). It found far more interest in people wanting to downsize and those wanting smaller homes, not three-bedroom homes. The mix of sale to rental units for those 15 townhomes has yet to be determined, which is to say the developers are hedging their bets. This is perfectly permissible under the revised, gift-to-developer guidelines.

Oh, and the developer wants eight of the 15 units for on-site staff housing. So eight of you that are currently high on the waitlist, tough noogies. Keep waiting. The developers have more important employees than you.

And how about those 22 three-bedroom, tourist accommodation (TA) townhomes? What a gift. Ask yourself how much easier 22 TA townhomes will be to sell at a tidy profit than a seven-room boutique hotel and a scattering of cabins. Hello Airbnb. Goodbye peaceful neighbourhood.

But my greatest objection to this rezoning is twofold. The first is the wholesale sellout by council when they revised the guidelines for this ill-conceived development proposal. Whistler does not need more market housing. Over and over again, people complain about the overcrowding in town, the jammed highway, the crush of people. Building more market housing is the last thing we need, and building it on Alta Lake Road will only lead to more ugliness with more people trying to get onto the highway heading north from the intersection. No one except staff, council and developers were in favour of these changes.

My greatest objection is, perhaps Quixotic. It stems from my disdain for self-interest. One of the developers proposing this project was a prominent member of the Mayor's Task Force on Resident Housing. He was also board chair of WHA. I have been assured repeatedly that his contributions to both efforts were of great value and I neither doubt nor deny that.

But the perception—and let us remember, perception is reality—of one of the architects of the whole notion of having private developers build resident housing now taking advantage of that opportunity is ethically distasteful. This is a purely subjective bias on my part and I am not accusing anyone of wrongdoing. I'm just saying I find it questionable when people seek to profit from opportunities they were involved in creating.

This is exacerbated by the fact we don't need to have private developers build resident housing and we certainly don't need them to add to the swollen market-housing inventory in the process. We have the land at Cheakamus and the wherewithal to build as much resident housing as we need.

Ironically, the mayor won't be at the open house either. He'll be moderating a historical panel discussion at the library about creating Whistler Village. Two panel members, Garry Watson and Jim Moodie, have been fundamental in creating both Whistler and affordable staff housing. Garry is on record as strongly opposing this project. Jim was instrumental in designing the village and served on the board of Whistler Development Corp, the developers of Cheakamus Crossing and has been a proponent of moving forward with the WHA model.

Like I said, the timing sucks.


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