Waitlist for employee housing tips 500 

Big resident housing projects for Whistler under development

The waitlist for employee housing in Whistler has topped more than 500 people for the first time ever.

Meanwhile, developers are coming at the municipality hard and fast to bring their housing proposals to the table.

The waitlist, which is a running tally of those residents hoping to buy into the price-restricted housing market in Whistler, spilled over the 500 mark in early May. This is the highest it has ever been.

Tim Wake, general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority, said the increase is due in part to a potential large development project in between Alpine and Emerald on the Rainbow lands. When news of the Rainbow project was made public in January, the list started growing.

"Ever since Rainbow became a serious possibility, that really affected it (the waitlist)," explained Wake.

The Rainbow developers aren’t the only ones offering a solution to Whistler’s housing problems. Last week a proposal was made public for another large development in Whistler – this one to the south, across the highway from the Spring Creek subdivision on the Alpha Creek lands. This is a 77-acre site owned by John Zen.

Both projects can deliver a sizable chunk of housing to meet the community’s growing demand for housing.

When Steve Bayly was hired by the municipality last year to be the housing expeditor and kick-start some deals, he looked at both the Rainbow project and the Zen project. Ultimately he championed Rainbow.

"My mandate was to get something going that I thought would go, that would have likeliness of success, and the ingredients, in my mind, weren’t there with the Zen (lands)," said Bayly.

"Virtually everybody I had contact with… really had no joy or enthusiasm for the Zen lands. And so in my mind I didn’t think it had much of a chance of achieving success."

Bayly explained that even though there may be nothing technically wrong with the site, there is a notion that the land in that area must be protected because of its proximity to the wetlands.

Some disagree, including Councillor Marianne Wade.

"I’ve always believed that the Alpha Creek lands should be looked at," she said this week.

Her rationale is that the land has already been disturbed, the new neighbourhood would be near a school and a firehall and more importantly, a housing project would, rather than destroy the wetlands, allow the developer to preserve them in a public trust.

But before either Rainbow or Zen comes to the table she said, the municipality needs to wrap its head around the fundamental question of how much and what kind of housing is needed in the future.

Roughly two years ago council asked for a housing needs assessment that would have addressed that problem. It is now long overdue said Wade. The assessment is expected to come before council in June and answer those questions.

"The question is – what is that (wait)list going to look like in five years?" said Wade. "We need to understand that."

In the meantime several projects are still in development. In addition to Rainbow and Zen there’s the housing that will come with Cressey Development’s redevelopment of the Shoestring site and The Holborn Group’s redevelopment of the tennis club site.

And on top of all these private developments, there is of course the future Olympic athletes village on Whistler’s southern edge. This is slated to turn into an employee housing neighbourhood after the 2010 Games.

The soonest any of these projects could deliver any housing is the fall of 2006 – if municipal approvals come soon and site work can begin this summer. Meanwhile the waitlist continues to grow and residents are told that it will be at least two to three years before they will be offered a house on that list.

One project, however, could change that all around.

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