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Building expansion prompts employee housing policy review

Developer feels Function Junction not a good place for employee housing

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Plans to expand and renovate a commercial building in Function Junction have prompted a review of the tools the municipality can use to leverage employee housing from developers.

At an early November meeting council was presented with plans to almost double the size of the Lordo auto parts building near the entrance to Whistler’s industrial subdivision. As part of the renovation and expansion plans, the developer opted to pay the Employee Housing Service Charge, rather than provide employee housing, which is his choice under the bylaw.

But some members of council are saying the bylaw is outdated, making it too easy for developers to pay the charge rather than build employee housing units.

"We shouldn’t have the option any more for developers to buy out of the employee generation, and especially not at the old rate," said Councillor Ken Melamed after the meeting.

The old rate has been around for more than a decade.

Under that rate a developer must pay $5,908 per employee generated by the development. The municipality also has an employee generation formula to calculate how many employees are needed for any given development. According to that formula, the 11,000 square foot additions at the Lordo building will generate four new employees. As such, the developer must pay $23,632.

"At the time (the charge was created) they thought that was a significant amount of money and actually when they were building these giant properties in the village, it created quite a substantial amount of money," said Melamed.

The money that came from the Employee Housing Service Charge bylaw over the construction boom in Village North created a $6 million pot in the employee housing fund. That money has since been used to build employee housing.

"That was then and this is now and we’re incredibly short of employee housing obviously and we are having trouble replenishing the fund and it just doesn’t jive," said Melamed. "What can the housing authority do with $6,000 per employee?

"I’m at the end of my rope. I’m tired of waiting. Each time we see these at the old formula, I say ‘well, we’ve got to review this.’ And literally it’s been eight years since I’ve been on council. My position now personally is not to approve anything under that old formula."

Councillor Nick Davies also agreed the service charge bylaw isn’t realistic.

"Part of what we need to do, and really we are engaged in this process… is rethink where we are going in terms of employee housing and what tools are appropriate and what tools are not appropriate," he said after the meeting.

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