New building guidelines must provide certainty, say developers 

RMOW hopes to add 500 beds from private sector over five years

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ERIC THOMPSON - RENTAL READY Private developers need certainty when putting forward employee housing proposals, say developers.
  • Photo by Eric Thompson
  • RENTAL READY Private developers need certainty when putting forward employee housing proposals, say developers.

New draft guidelines for private developers wanting to build employee housing in Whistler are workable, according to local developers, but questions remain around certainty for builders.

The recommendation was one of seven to arise from the Mayor's Task Force on Resident Housing, and was presented at the Dec. 5 council meeting.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler thinks it could add 500 beds over the next five years.

"The guidelines are very workable. It really comes down to the interpretation of them," said Rod Nadeau of Innovation Building Group.

With the final decision on each project resting at the council table, council will have to provide a level of certainty for developers coming in the doors at municipal hall.

"If you put a proposal together that is reasonable and somebody can make a reasonable return, council have to recognize that, because if they don't, they're going to get nothing," Nadeau said.

"Without a certain level of certainty, there's no point in doing it."

Nadeau has been burned by subjective council decision-making in the past, having spent $200,000 on a proposal that met every guideline only to be turned down at the council table.

Nadeau has since turned to Pemberton and Golden for development opportunities, where he now has three projects underway through his company Vidorra Developments.

The company also has a project in the works for Whistler.

Affordable housing can be broken into a couple of subgroups, Nadeau said.

Subsidized housing like that through the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) — which has the luxury of free land, site servicing, zoning done by an outside entity and grants from BC Housing — is a "completely different animal" from what private developers are up against when trying to build affordable housing, he said.

"The municipal council has to recognize that if you don't subsidize a project by $2-to-$4 million, the rents are going to be a little higher than subsidized WHA rates," he said.

"But as a professional landlord, we want our tenants to fit the (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) guidelines for affordability, because we don't want turnover — we want stable tenants that can afford the rent."

Steve Bayly, another longtime local developer, offered some similar thoughts on the guidelines.

"From my perspective, the main problem here will be the tradeoff with affordability," he said, pointing to the same WHA advantages as Nadeau.

"They're pretty formidable competition when it comes to affordability. I think the town should chase the private sector on this, but I don't think they should hang their hat on it."

A private developer who owns a lot that allows for a single-family home is already up more than $1 million, Bayly noted.

"So you kind of have to give that up if you lose the home site (to build employee housing)," he said.

"My main thing on (the guidelines) is just that I worry about the take-up, and especially concerned with them hanging their hat on it, and pursuing this instead of more rental at Cheakamus Crossing."

As for the goal of adding 500 beds from the private sector, it's hard to imagine where the land is, Nadeau said.

"If you want to build another suburb, no problem — if you can go out to Callaghan and put 500 beds there," he said.

"But it's not going to work for rental housing."

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