RMOW plans for Olympic housing legacy 

Preliminary site work on Lower Cheakamus nearing completion

Even though the drawings are in the early stages, you still get a sense of what the future holds for the lands around Whistler’s landfill.

This will be the home of some 2,500 athletes and their support staff during the 2010 Games. Later it will be the home of Whistler residents as a new neighbourhood in south side of town.

"This is part of the land bank so it’s a significant piece of one of the (Olympic) legacies," said Deputy Administrator Bill Barratt this week.

He added that a lot of work is being done on an aggressive timeline and they intend to have the plans ready to take to the public for comment in September.

Municipal plans revealed this week indicate that work is well underway on the large site known as the Lower Cheakamus. That work includes a geotechnical study, hazard assessments, environmental screening and a contamination site study due to the proximity of the landfill.

"Our first exercise was really understanding the site," said Mike Vance, RMOW general manager of community initiatives.

They also had to figure out the existing values in the area that they wanted to preserve, such as the trail network and places like House Rock on the Cheakamus River.

This was followed with shadow analysis and sun exposure as well as aspect analysis.

What they found out was that the site is fairly level at the confluence of the Whistler and Cheakamus Valleys. The flat sections have good sun exposure and capture some stunning views of the surrounding mountains peaks.

Of the whole area municipal staff estimate roughly 135 acres is developable, which would sit just north of the landfill and on the south side of the existing road up to Loggers Lake. Another portion of land south of the landfill could be developed at a later date but for now the focus remains on the northern section.

A core commercial area will most likely sit just north of the existing landfill, which will turn into playing fields/green space in time for the Games.

"We really do need to have a (commercial) core for the neighbourhood," said Vance.

The core most likely will include a convenience store, neighbourhood pub and small bistro – enough to service the nearby residents but not enough to take away from other commercial areas in Whistler.

"We don’t want this neighbourhood to compete with Whistler Creek, Function or Whistler Village," said Vance.

The plan is that residents living in the Lower Cheakamus will be able to walk to the core via trails without having to cross any roads. The main road to the neighbourhood will be a ring road surrounding the subdivision with smaller access roads leading into clusters of housing.

In addition to figuring out the future neighbourhood, staff must also plan for the athletes village. They will need to build 325 dwelling units, either apartments or townhouses, for the Olympics.

"(The site) can accommodate significantly more than what’s required for the Games," said Vance.

Though some details have been confirmed in recent months, much remains in the air for the future of this area after the Games. How much the housing will be sold for has yet to be determined. It will be employee housing, which means it can only be sold to residents of Whistler, but the price of that housing is not yet clear, nor is the type of housing clear.

"We have talked about a range of housing prices," said Barratt.

The Whistler Housing Authority sets a benchmark price of $175/square foot for price restricted employee housing but Vance said the current cost of building housing is more like $240/square foot.

Staff has to figure out how much the housing must be sold for by costing all the construction and adding the $32 million given to them by the Vancouver Organizing Committee.

"We’re not proposing to make money (on the housing)," said Barratt. "You want to deliver something that doesn’t cost you any money as a taxpayer."

It also is not yet clear how much employee housing Whistler will need in 2011.

In the meantime, staff is working on finalizing the site plans before taking them public in the fall. Ultimately they are hoping to have the land rezoned by March 2006.

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