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Council takes action on illegal crawl space

Local homebuilders put forward proposal for widespread problem

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Council is once again cracking down on what has been called “rampant” illegal space in Whistler homes.

This time the home is a seven-bedroom luxury estate in Stonebridge, where municipal building inspector Joe Mooney found a crawl space had been converted into a media room, wine cellar and adjacent kitchen.

No building permit was issued for this work, Mooney explained, and the owners had signed a covenant (called a Section 219) saying the crawl space would not be developed.

“I find this particularly egregious,” said Mayor Ken Melamed.

“Clearly this is not a crawl space.”

Council unanimously called for a notice on title to be placed on the property, which will alert any potential new owners to the illegal space problem. This house is one more in a line of properties that have come under review by the building inspector, prompted by written complaints to municipal hall.

But according to realtor and former mayor Drew Meredith the notice on title does little to rectify the problem.

“These things are a complete waste of time,” he said upon learning of council’s decision this week.

The owner doesn’t care, said Meredith, and any new owner will buy it with that notice on title. Called a section 57, the notice cannot prevent a sale but it stays on title until the situation is rectified. The owner must bear the responsibility, said Mooney, if a problem arises in this illegal space, such as a fire breaking out.

This is not the way to go about fixing a widespread problem in the resort, maintained Meredith,

“It’s quite rampant, and in some cases, blatantly so.”

Part of the reason Whistler finds itself in this situation is that it has not kept pace with the demands of the real estate market of people looking to own larger homes.

“We have not kept up with our competitors around the world in terms of responding to these people’s desires and needs, which is generally bigger homes,” said Meredith

“That’s what the market has wanted and it’s clear and evident in all the sales activity that’s going on here, big square footages go first.”

And that translates into pressure to find as much space as possible in homes, regardless of whether it’s legal space or not.

To address the widespread problem the local chapter of the Canadian Homebuilders Association put forward a proposal to municipal staff in early October. Developer Bob Deeks explained that the proposal calls for the municipality to move to a volume based measurement model as opposed to square footage.

“So we’re absolutely not proposing that we allow bigger homes, just that we create a model that controls houses in a different way so that once the massing of the house has been approved, the owner can then go and fill that space however they like,” said Deeks.

“It becomes a very measurable way for the municipality to control how people build their homes.”

One of the key principles behind the solution he said was to rectify the safety issues.

“When you remove the municipality and the building inspectors from the process of building there’s no guarantee that the minimum building code safety standards are being followed,” said Deeks.

Essentially the recommendation would allow two houses to sit side by side and to the undiscerning eye it would not be evident that one house is 4,000 square feet and the other is 6,000 square feet. Under the volume-based formula, both could potentially be legal.

Municipal spokesperson Diana Waltmann confirmed staff has the proposal.

“More research needs to be done,” she said.

“It’s something that we’ll look at when we have the resources to do so.”

The latest home to have a notice placed on title is owned by Belmont Park Real Estate and is currently listed for sale at almost $14 million. The seven-acre property consists of a five-bedroom main house and a two-bedroom guesthouse and spa building.

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