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Council approves cash in lieu of mandatory employee suites

Move recommended after strata councils in Gondola Village, Tamarisk raised objections to covenant swaps



Homeowners who are required to put a secondary suite in their homes can now be relieved of their obligation with a $150,000 donation to the Whistler Housing Authority.

Council accepted this cash-in-lieu policy at Monday’s regular meeting, with only Councillor Gordon McKeever withholding his support.

The policy was developed by the Whistler Housing Authority board of directors and the non-cost housing initiatives task force after an earlier recommendation from the task force raised the ire of homeowners in Gondola Village and Tamarisk.

That earlier recommendation allowed the owner of a large single family home in Taluswood, who was required under a covenant to build a suite in his home, to buy a unit at Gondola Village instead.

The unit cost the Taluswood owner $250,000 and was later sold to a Whistler resident on the WHA wait list for $87,000. The unit is now permanently registered in the WHA pool of housing.

Homeowners in housing complexes like Gondola Village and Tamarisk, which could support these covenant swaps, complained that they were not properly consulted in the process.

"When Gondola Village found out after the fact that the Whistler Housing Authority had acquired a unit in our complex, the principal objection of our owners is that is was done behind our back and we were blindsided," said Ross Ruddick, strata chair for Gondola Village, after Monday’s meeting.

"And we believe that advance consultation with Whistler Housing would have probably eliminated a lot of the antagonism that our owners feel about the issue."

Ruddick said he was pleased to see council adopt the cash-in-lieu policy because he said it would have a real impact in creating a fund to build more employee housing.

However, he questioned the debate at the council table, which called for the payment to be raised higher than $150,000.

A number of councillors expressed concern that the payment should be higher. Councillor Ken Melamed tried to increase the payment to $250,000, without success.

Ruddick said increasing the payment would effectively kill the program and that council forgot the rationale for why that figure was chosen by the task force, the WHA board of directors and supported by Ruddick and other Gondola Village homeowners.

"Essentially there is an understanding in Whistler that the current covenant bylaw is pretty toothless in that people that have properties with covenants are complying with the bylaw and building a suite but they’re never having that suite occupied and many of them are quietly converting them to other uses at a later date," said Ruddick.

"Both the task force and the board of directors and ourselves recognized that in order to bring out people’s honesty, the dollar figure would have to be reasonable and the $150,000 was basically arrived at as being a reasonable figure that would motivate people to contribute to the fund to eliminate the covenant on their property."