Work underway on several housing fronts 

Housing remains 'No. 1 priority' at municipal hall, mayor says

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS - BUILDING BLOCKS A new seniors' housing building on Bear Paw Trail in Rainbow is slated for occupancy in December 2019.
  • Photo by Braden Dupuis
  • BUILDING BLOCKS A new seniors' housing building on Bear Paw Trail in Rainbow is slated for occupancy in December 2019.

As the dog days of summer shift into fall, there is movement on several fronts in regards to housing in Whistler—but much of the heavy lifting still lies ahead.

Open houses were held for two private-developer employee-housing projects on Aug. 19 and 20, followed by a Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) information session on Aug. 22.

A "permission to proceed" for a 200-bed Whistler Blackcomb (WB) staff housing building is expected to come to council on Sept. 3, while an update on Cheakamus Crossing Phase 2 will be considered later this fall.

Meanwhile, three new WHA buildings are still under construction.

"It's fair to say we all wake up with housing at the front of our minds nowadays," said Mayor Jack Crompton.

"Housing is our No. 1 priority."

IF YOU BUILD IT...

From Crompton's point of view, housing isn't something the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) "fixes," but rather a priority it remains committed to.

"The WHA is globally recognized for its innovative work, but I don't see a day where we will close the doors and say 'mission accomplished.' We enter dangerous water when we imagine we've fixed it. Markets are constantly changing. Communities are constantly changing," Crompton said.

"Whistler has a long history of data-driven decision-making [in] the evolution of our housing program. As long as I have a say, we will remain focused on how our housing market is changing and how we should respond."

That said, the municipality knows that building more housing—and creating a smooth-flowing "housing continuum" for all demographics and needs—will go a long way to easing the pain.

"The impact of WB dormitories is significant. A new 200 beds will make a big dent in our housing challenge," Crompton said.

And as for Cheakamus Phase 2—which the mayor highlighted as one of his priorities before last year's election—the Whistler 2020 Development Corp is poised to bring its business plan to council this fall, Crompton said.

"[It] looks at development timelines [and] funding models," he said.

"At this point, the WDC board is focusing the lion's share of their time on servicing, engineering and architectural."

Meanwhile, two new WHA builds are still slated to open this year: 1020 Legacy Way in Cheakamus (24 units and 53 employee beds, with occupancy slated for November 2019) and 8350 Bear Paw Trail in Rainbow (20 units and 39 employee beds for seniors, December 2019).

A third, 1330 Cloudburst Dr. in Cheakamus (45 units and 103 employee beds) is slated for occupancy in 2021.

PRIVATE DEVELOPER EMPLOYEE HOUSING PROJECTS

Work is still underway on one of the more contentious recommendations of the Mayor's Task Force on Resident Housing as well: employee-housing projects from private developers.

Council greenlit further review of two private developer employee-housing projects in February—1315 Cloudburst Dr., a proposal from Whistler Sport Legacies for 57 apartments and 52 bed units, and 2028 Rob Boyd Way, a proposal from the Whistler Mountain Ski Club for two shared apartments (or one dorm) and eight bed units—both of which recently held sparsely-attended community information sessions.

Both projects are expected to come back to council for rezoning this fall.

When the community will hear more about the others (which have proved more contentious) remains anyone's guess.

Though council updated the guidelines for such projects on March 26 in an effort to provide more flexibility for developers (see Pique, April 1), there is no indication of when—or if—the projects will be back before council.

The most contentious by far is 2077 Garibaldi Way (48 apartments, 144 bed units), which has garnered a small mountain of opposition letters from the Nordic neighbourhood in particular.

While the RMOW had not received any new or revised materials from the applicants as of last month, the proponents say they have not backed away.

"We are looking for opportunities to better align the project with the neighbourhood under the new guidelines," said proponent Dave Brownlie, in a text message.

The project on 7104 Nancy Greene Dr. in White Gold (59 apartments, 177 bed units) has also received some pushback from neighbours, though nowhere near the extent of 2077 Garibaldi Way.

Proponent Rod Nadeau of Vidorra Developments said his team had a site meeting on Aug. 22.

"We had a good meeting today and submitted a new building design," Nadeau said in an email. "We are now waiting for comments before we can proceed with any more work on our side."

The fifth and final project—8975 Highway 99 (99 apartments and 48 dorm beds, 339 bed units)—appears to be stalled out. Last year, council approved consideration of the site under the condition that the proponents get assurance from the province that highway access would be allowed, which it did not get.

Requests for an update to proponent Orr Development were not returned before Pique's deadline.

ADMINISTRATIVE ANSWERS?

Meanwhile, work on other Mayor's Task Force recommendations has also carried on behind the scenes.

Information sessions on WHA's new guidelines (see Pique, July 25) were held on Aug. 22, and were well attended by seniors and other members of the community.

"It's quite an adjustment for seniors from what we had previously, but generally speaking I think they're accepting," said Michael d'Artois, the Mature Action Community's (MAC) designated seniors housing rep on the WHA board.

"We're not disappointed with what's coming out here, because Whistler has to address this housing issue."

MAC has a "very good relationship" with the RMOW, and d'Artois believes there will be room for conversation around the guidelines.

"It's a long conversation, and I've had feedback from several seniors in the community already wondering how they're going to make this work," he said.

"We'll see how it flushes out, and I think the next two to three months is really going to tell the tale."

The RMOW is also taking a more proactive approach on enforcing illegal nightly rentals, issuing 41 tickets ($500 each) as of June 25, compared to 30 in total in 2018.

"The outcome of the Mayor's Task Force is that there is a multitude of fronts we were going to approach on addressing the housing challenges, and there wasn't one solution that [was] the silver bullet—some of them, you try things on, and they're successful to a degree, but they're not the complete answer," said chief administrative officer Mike Furey.

"We're continuing to do lots of research and data analysis to understand the demand, and understand where [and] how we deliver the most housing for the community in the most affordable and effective manner possible."

Find more at www.whistler.ca/housing.

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