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Council rejects Function Junction building with employee housing

Decision thwarted by lack of a master plan for Whistler’s Industrial Park



Putting Whistler residents next to a concrete plant was just one of the reasons council Monday axed plans for a large mixed-use development in Function Junction.

The proposed building on Alpha Lake Road, next to the Cardinal Concrete plant, was to have had light industrial uses on the first floor and general office uses on the second floor. On the top floor developers were planning to put 21 units of employee housing, which would have been added to the Whistler Housing Authority pool and rented out to Whistler residents.

But councillors raised concerns about putting residents in the thick of Whistler’s Industrial Park at Monday’s council meeting when the project came before them for its first round of approvals.

"Having a concrete works as a neighbour could be a challenging thing," said Councillor Gordon McKeever, adding that he could not support the proposed development.

Councillor Nick Davies said he had walked the site on two different occasions and found it hard to reconcile the residential units going into the most "hard core industrial area of Function Junction."

Councillor Caroline Lamont also raised concerns about putting residents next to the major transmission lines in Function.

Concerns like these have been coming before council recently as business neighbours and other developers in Function Junction expressed their concerns about the project.

A letter to council from Randy Ficko, owner/manager of Proteck Industries across the street from the proposed development said:

"Introducing a sanctioned residential block of 21 units... in this area will compromise existing businesses by placing unreasonable constraints on operations that cannot provide products and or services without the by-products of machinery noise, heavy vehicular and machinery traffic, and the accompanying air pollution (dust, etc.)."

He went on to state: "Residential Zoning would assume the right to "Quiet and Private Enjoyment": the businesses here cannot guarantee that right without significant and costly changes..."

But Councillor Marianne Wade supported the mixed-use development project, pointing to the huge success of Granville Island and False Creek in Vancouver as a model.

She called those areas, which are recognized internationally, as one of the greatest accomplishments in planning history that combines residential uses with industrial uses like a concrete plant.

Council also struggled to approve the development in light of the fact that there is no clear roadmap for the future of Function Junction.

Councillor Kristi Wells asked if approving a mixed-use residential/industrial development could "upset the apple cart" when it came to developing a plan for Function Junction in the future.

She asked Bob MacPherson, general manager of planning and development services with the RMOW, if council should approve this project right now in the absence of a master plan.

MacPherson said one potential future of Function Junction is a move toward more housing. He said this overall look at the neighbourhood is not in the staff’s work plan this year but it could come out of the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan in 2005.

Though staff recognizes the concerns with putting residential housing in this area, he said they did not think adding 21 units would be a deal-breaker for council.

Wells said she wanted council to approve the first step of the project, which would have then forced a public hearing, allowing members of the public to speak out about the development.

She added that even though there may be concerns about residential uses in Function, the neighbourhood is a different kind of community with different appeals for people.

In addition, every piece of employee housing helps with the housing crunch in the resort, she said.

Wade also reiterated council’s goal of providing a set number of employee beds to the community by the end of their term in office.

"We have a goal of achieving 500 housing units and I would like to move forward with this," said Wade, who commended staff for thinking outside the box.

Even though employee housing is a top priority for council, Davies said they don’t have to accept every proposal that comes through the door.

"It just doesn’t make planning sense to me," he said.

"(And) it’s clear that there are other (employee housing) opportunities coming down the pipe sooner rather than later."

In the end Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said council was trying really hard to push a square peg in a round hole.

He said council could consider a project like this in the future but not at the present time. Wade and Wells opposed taking the project off the table.

Chris Bishop, planning analyst at the municipality who presented the project to council, said he was not aware what the developer’s next steps would be in light of council’s decision.

Under the land’s current zoning, the developer could apply for a building permit for a development that could be up to 10,000 square feet bigger than the one currently proposed. The zoning does not allow for any residential units.

The property is already subdivided and anticipated for development.

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