Opinion » Editorial


Intrawest’s sale last week of 26 town house units at The Heights on Taluswood for $26 million-plus generated a lot of oohs and ahhs and head shaking. Once again, the demand for real estate in Whistler exceeded expectations. Without any advertising The Heights, which won’t be under construction until at least April, sold out in less than a day. Several weeks ago, one realtor said sales at The Heights would go some way to gauging the demand for future high-end real estate in Whistler. The message is crystal clear. Those who missed out on The Heights may now be making sure they don’t miss out on The Peaks subdivision and BC Rails’s proposed development of estate lots on the west side of the valley. The global demand for high-end real estate in Whistler is understood, although probably fewer of us comprehend how significant that demand is. Where it may directly impact the average Whistlerite is when all the new projects are sold and buyers turn to the 1970s cabins in Alpine Meadows and Emerald Estates. Such places aren’t cheap now but if the ski-in, ski-out units and estate lots aren’t available the market will turn to tear-downs, putting the squeeze on everyone. Real estate prices aren’t the only indicator the cost of living in Whistler continues to rise. The so-called middle class Whistlerite — perhaps an oxymoron — need only look at the pressures the municipality and Tourism Whistler are under to see that it’s going to cost more to live here. Tourism Whistler says it needs a larger operating budget if Whistler is to continue to be first in the minds of vacationers. Tourism Whistler also needs about $7 million to renovate the conference centre. A sponsor might be found to cover some of the renovation costs, but to boost its operating budget TW has its eye on 100 per cent of the hotel tax, which it now shares with the municipality. Meanwhile, the municipality says it is about $400,000 short because several condo-hotels went from a commercial tax classification to residential. Other condo-hotels could also change classification. Nearly three years ago the municipality began formulating a proposal for tax restructuring, which it was going to take to the province. The idea was to find tools that would shift some of the tax load from property owners to visitors. The plan appears to be stalled, in part because of the municipality’s inability to hire a director of finance. Candidates have been scared off by the compensation for the job and the cost of living in Whistler. Other projects in the works with large price tags include the much maligned and little understood transportation strategy. To implement all aspects of the strategy would cost about $45 million. Mercifully, the municipality appears to have listened to Emerald Estates property owners and delayed hooking them up to the sewer for at least a year, when the province may be more willing to share the cost. And then there are all the things Whistler has planned but hasn’t figured out how to fund. A permanent library, museum, a hospital open 24 hours a day, a cultural centre... All of which is not to say that Whistler is completely unaffordable, but looking at the cost of living here today, things that will need funding in the future and who is going to pay for them can be a scary proposition. Taxes collected from high-end projects such as The Heights and The Peaks will help the municipality’s coffers, but a long-term plan to ensure that middle class Whistlerites can continue to afford to live here is needed.