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Council defends decision, apologizes for lack of communication

Lakecrest housing unit will be available to all future fire chiefs

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Council apologized to residents on the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) waitlist this week for their lack of communication regarding an August decision to set aside a unit in the Lakecrest development in Alta Vista for the fire chief or assistant fire chief.

While the WHA and municipality have always had a policy of moving employees in essential services to the top of the rental waitlist this is the first time that they have moved a staff position to the top of the purchase waitlist.

The decision only came to light recently, prompting Mayor Ken Melamed to release a statement regarding the decision to employees on the waitlist.

“I can assure you Council did not make this decision lightly, knowing as we did that it would impact the employees and families on the wait list,” wrote Mayor Melamed. “However, you’ve elected us to make decisions in the best interests of the whole community, based on our shared values and considering our vision and priorities as stated in Whistler 2020. No one said it would be easy.”

According to the letter, the municipality requires essential personnel to reside within the Whistler community in order to respond quickly to emergencies, including the fire chief and two assistant fire chiefs. Through a new policy, the municipality is now contractually required to provide housing to meet safety obligations, close to the highway and fire hall.

“The unit at Lakecrest was chosen because of its proximity to the village and access to the highway, as well as immediate availability,” wrote Melamed.

The municipality secured the residence at Lakecrest on behalf of Fire Chief Rob Whitton, who purchased the unit under a special covenant. If he quits or retires, the special covenant stipulates that he must sell the unit to the municipality or to the next fire chief or an assistant fire chief. The municipality may rent the unit to another emergency staff member, put it back in the rental pool for other essential staff, or put it back into the housing pool.

Essential staff include fire, police, ambulance, medical personnel and public educators.

Only four units at Lakecrest were set aside for employee housing. The neighbourhood is considered desirable because it’s on Alta Lake and adjacent to Lakeside Park. The 23 single-family homesites in the complex start at $1,095,000.

According to WHA manager Marla Zucht, the remaining three employee units were offered to the top 20 residents on the general waitlist, and sold right away. Waitlists for those three units have not been created yet, but they will be added to the inventory.

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