By Alison Taylor
The Rainbow employee housing project has cleared a major municipal hurdle despite lingering concerns from some at the council table.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting council unanimously adopted the bylaws for the large development project at the north end of town, finally putting an end to speculation the deal was in peril at municipal hall.
“This is a very happy moment for me and for the community,” said Councillor Tim Wake, the first to offer his support for what is the biggest employee housing project ever approved in the community.
“This is a threshold moment.”
The decision came as a relief to developer Rod Nadeau, who was in the audience Tuesday night.
“We’ve been sitting at risk for three years on this,” he said the following day.
“You never know until they pass it.
“We now have certainty.”
That certainty will now fast track the project and Rainbow reaffirmed its commitment to have the housing delivered in the next two years.
There was, however, a cautionary note to both Mayor Ken Melamed’s and Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden’s support.
The mayor said he wasn’t about to open the bubbly and start celebrating at this point; that will happen when there are people moving into the homes. And there is still a lot of work to do before that happens.
“It’s far from done,” said Melamed of the deal. “The only thing that allows me to support this is a complete faith in staff.”
It was a concern raised also by Wilhelm-Morden, who said she couldn’t recall approval of any bylaws during her four terms on council when there were so many outstanding conditions still to be settled.
Of the 22 conditions Rainbow developers were to have completed before adoption of the bylaws, only four have been fully checked off the list, she said.
The municipality’s general manager of planning and development, Bob MacPherson, explained the remaining conditions were “substantially complete” and staff was satisfied the project was ready for adoption.
Outstanding items, such as final approval of the servicing drawings, will be in the power of the Subdivision Approving Officer.
The adoption of the bylaws Tuesday revealed some interesting changes to the deal, which was first laid out in a 2005 Memorandum of Understanding signed by the municipality and the developers, a local firm called Whistler Rainbow Properties Ltd.
Originally the resort municipality was to have assumed some risk in the project, buying the units if they were not sold to employees on the housing waitlist. This so-called “backstopping” of the deal is now off the table. The developers will now assume the risk of these sales.
It is still not clear how much the units will cost but owners will enter into a fixed price agreement with the developers.
Owners will purchase a lot from Rainbow, paying either $110,00 for a single-family lot or $65,000 for a duplex lot. They will then choose one of several home designs, including the fittings, and that will determine the end price.
Construction must begin 18 months after the purchase and must be complete within 36 months.
Still, there are no timelines for Rainbow, another point raised by both the mayor and Wilhelm-Morden.
“We don’t have any power to set the date in stone,” said Melamed after the meeting.
It is expected the homes will be largely completed in 2008 and 2009, before the sale of the employee housing units at the athletes’ village.
Work on the Rainbow site has been on hold for about two months while the developers waited for adoption of the bylaws and certainty of the final plans. Work to date has been limited to clearing and shaping the land. The site is not yet serviced.
Nadeau hopes to have crews back on the site Monday morning.
And despite the cautionary cloud hanging over council’s decision, he reaffirmed his faith in the project.
“The easy part is building this,” he said.
“Rainbow’s going to be one of the best neighhourhoods in Whistler. Period.”
The employee housing subdivision will include 70 single-family homes, 80 duplexes, a seniors housing component, a commercial core and market housing units. It is designed to meet the growing need of employees looking to buy real estate in Whistler.
The waitlist at the Whistler Housing Authority is now more than 600 applicants long.