Private housing plans still under review 

Five proposals moving forward, but hurdles remain

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - under review Council is moving forward with five employee housing proposals, like one contentious project planned for Nordic.
  • file photo
  • under review Council is moving forward with five employee housing proposals, like one contentious project planned for Nordic.

While mayor and council authorized further review of five employee-housing proposals from private developers on Sept. 18, each project still has some hurdles to clear before shovels are in the ground.

Proper rezoning processes will now take place for each, including public information sessions and public hearings, before any decisions are made.

2077 GARIBALDI WAY

The project in Nordic was the first to come to light under the new guidelines for private developers, and has since prompted hundreds of letters to municipal hall (mostly opposed).

Neighbours have argued the density is a poor match for the quiet cul-de-sac at the end of Garibaldi Way, and the added traffic will make a tough situation (heading south on Highway 99 from Nordic) even worse.

The project has been scaled back from its original size, with proponent Robert Velenosi now seeking 48 apartments (three-storeys instead of four with underground parking) instead of 74, and 144 bed units instead of 222.

"It works today," said proponent Dave Brownlie, of the reduced scale. "Obviously as times change, as construction costs potentially increase and interest rates change, there's some flexibility, but it's a pretty tight project overall."

As for traffic concerns, Brownlie said the proponents have done a traffic study, which found that the only issue is with traffic turning southbound out of Nordic.

"But that really is an issue already today," he said, adding that in the scope of the neighbourhood, which encompasses almost 4,000 bed units, an additional 144 isn't going to have that much of an impact.

"It's certainly not ideal, but it certainly isn't going to dramatically worsen anything," Brownlie said. "And the reality is with improvements, hopefully, that we're going to make in the community ... on the highway, with transit, will ultimately reduce the overall volume of traffic throughout the subdivision."

1704 NANCY GREENE DRIVE

Like the Nordic project, the proposal on Nancy Greene Drive has been downsized: 47 apartments in four storeys with underground parking (down from 65 apartments in five storeys) and 122 bed units (down from 184).

At the council meeting on Sept. 18, some councillors expressed support for the project in its original form.

"This property is in the centre of town and it's truly walking distance to everything, so if we want to cater to people and lower their cost of living, that's why we proposed higher density and less parking," said Rod Nadeau of Innovation Building Group.

With underground parking costing $40,000 to $50,000 per stall, adding the parking has effectively added $1.2 million to the project—an increase that will ultimately be built into the rent.

The building would be similar to Innovation's recently completed projects in Pemberton, one of which is coming in at about $1 a day per apartment for total energy use.

While the project has garnered some opposition from nearby neighbours, Nadeau said its location—at the corner of Highway 99, near a bus stop and grocery store—is good urban planning.

"But that's the issue council have to face ... are they going to actually approve these projects? Because the only thing they're going to get from the neighbours are letters that say, 'I support affordable housing,' in the first line of every letter, 'but, this one is too dense,'" he said.

Opponents attempt to pick projects apart, sometimes hiring lawyers to do so, "and what they manage to accomplish by doing that is the projects either become unfeasible or the densities get lowered and they want more parking," Nadeau said.

"And all of a sudden they're not quite as affordable as they should be."

1317 CLOUDBURST DRIVE

On Cloudburst Drive in Cheakamus Crossing, Whistler Sport Legacies (WSL) is proposing 48 apartments (about 78 bed units) to help house its staff and athletes visiting Whistler.

"We're very unique in Canada, we have the hotel, the athletes lodge, and then we have 20 townhomes, but like every other organization we're facing more and more of a challenge in finding colleagues," said WSL president Roger Soane.

Of those 20 townhomes, five are for employee housing and 15 are for athletes, coaches and sporting organizations, Soane said, adding that WSL typically goes from a year-round compliment of 60 staff to about 130 in the winter. "So we're looking to bring in 80 to 90 people every year for seasonal employment," he said.

The project is taking a phased approach, with one 48-unit building followed by a potential second building with larger accommodation.

One floor would be open to long-term tenants from the wider community, two would be dedicated for WSL staff and long-term athletes or sport organizations, and the fourth would be kept for short-term athletes.

All of WSL's accommodation is at or below WHA rates, Soane said, and the organization would be looking to do the same with Cloudburst.

RAINBOW RIDGE

A project in Rainbow from Orr Development almost wasn't considered for further review, as staff cited access concerns to the property.

But council pulled the project back into consideration with a stipulation—that the proponent get assurance from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) that highway access would be allowed.

"I think our next meeting with staff is going to be reviewing that access, because there is access through Rainbow, the adjacent subdivision, without using the highway, and MOTI's preference is to not add highway accesses if you don't need them," said development manager Alex Orr.

"So we're kind of starting off with not getting a highway access and then if the municipality would rather that we have a highway access then we're going to be working with MOTI to hopefully make that happen. We're pretty confident that there's a solution to it, we just need a bit of time to figure it out."

At 99 apartments and 48 dorm beds (339 bed units), the project has the potential to make the biggest dent in employee housing out of all five being considered.

So far, the proponents haven't heard any concerns from nearby neighbours.

"We're from Whistler ... so we understand the community issues and desires pretty well, and we tried to kind of deal with those up front rather than propose something that's going to get a bunch of backlash," Orr said. "We've, I think, anticipated what people are going to be concerned about and tried to deal with it in the design."

The proponents aim to preserve most of the site, keeping 50 per cent green, as well as extend the Valley Trail to the property.

ROB BOYD WAY

The proposal on Rob Boyd Way being floated by the Whistler Mountain Ski Club (WMSC) is unlike any of the other projects being considered.

The WMSC had already been in discussions with municipal planning staff to zone the property before getting pulled into the private developer process.

The club is proposing to renovate its old patrollers cabin with two shared apartments or one dormitory, (eight bed units), to help house its coaches in the winter and other employees when available.

"There's nobody other that's getting a benefit out of this. There's no current parents in the ski club that's getting a benefit, there's no developer, there's no profit—this is something that's for the community," said WMSC vice chair John Legg.

The club is doing OK for coaches housing right now, Legg said, but that won't always be the case.

"We're lucky because we have a lot of legacy coaches, but we see over the next three or four years, as good people move on, we've got to bring somebody into the community," Legg said. "Our concern is that, how foolish would we look in five years if we couldn't house our coaches when we had the opportunity to do this? It just seems like a no-brainer."

How the rooms would be rented, or at what rates, has yet to be decided.

Follow the process at www.whistler.ca.

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