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Editorial

Once more with Whistler. It’s Our Future

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By G.D. Maxwell

A couple of final thoughts on the Whistler. It’s Our Future process for anyone still thinking about Whistler’s future and the Nov. 24 deadline for input.

There are a number of people who seem to feel that resident housing should go in the Callaghan Valley (scenario 3) because Whistler is already too crowded. Adding resident housing in infill sites is just going to make Whistler more unliveable, seemed to be a frequent sentiment at last weekend’s open house.

There’s no question Whistler has gotten bigger and more crowded over the years, and there are more people living here year-round than ever before. But how much more crowded is the valley going to get?

All five scenarios cap tourist accommodation at 16,700 bed units, 3,200 more than there were in 2001, which is the baseline year for figures. All five scenarios project increases in the number of annual visitors – from 10 to 20 per cent over the 2,043,400 who visited in 2001.

Only scenario 4 (diversifying the economy) envisions more businesses, and therefore more employees/full-time residents, than we have now or have already planned for.

The most dynamic change on Whistler’s horizon is the loss of employee accommodation in market housing, or leakage. According to the background booklet, "In 2001, 7,500 employees resided in market housing. It is estimated that 75 per cent of this accommodation (5,250 employees) will be lost through leakage."

These are the people that need resident housing; they already live here. Whether the housing is built in the Callaghan or in infill projects, it’s not going to make Whistler more crowded than it is now.

There will be an increase in the population of part-time residents, those people who can afford to buy the market housing that has in the past served as employee accommodation. But whenever a project that includes large trophy homes has come along we’ve been told that part-time residents are among the most desirable because they can afford to pay taxes and they don’t put much demand on the infrastructure. In other words, they won’t have much impact on crowding.

Another point to keep in mind about resident housing: It’s not all needed at once, because leakage doesn’t happen all at once. But it is needed before 2010.

One of the other challenges Whistler faces, according to the background booklet, is shrinking financial resources and an aging infrastructure. A cynic might say there was evidence of these shrinking financial resources at Saturday’s open house: Scenario 3 only proposed $2 million for a fire hall in the Callaghan, while there is $3 million budgeted for replacement of the existing fire hall at Alpine Meadows. But we digress.

The real issue is the cost of developing resident housing in the various locations proposed in the various scenarios – and quite possibly in locations not identified in any of the scenarios. The current exercise only looks at undeveloped Crown land, because the province has promised Whistler 300 acres of it for resident housing. In this context the Alpine North site, which has the potential for 1,400 bed units, is the cheapest of the major sites to develop on a per-bed unit cost: $3,401. Emerald West, which has potential for 2,175 bed units, is the most expensive to develop on a per-bed unit basis: $8,515. The costs for developing the Callaghan (6,900 BUs/$5,764) and Lower Cheakamus (up to 2,000 BUs/$5,310) sites fall in between.

It’s also worth noting that the Alpine North sits just above a large piece of privately owned land, the former Ski Rainbow site, which could also provide a substantial amount of resident housing.

But when I think of why the bulk of resident housing should be in infill sites rather than the Callaghan I think back to the construction of Whistler Village. The Grocery Store, liquor store, hardware store, pharmacy, Tapley’s Pub and Blackcomb Professional Building were all part of the first phase of the village’s development for a reason: so that residents and visitors would come together and interact with one another, rather than operating in two separate worlds. That is one of the fundamental principles that has made Whistler successful.

It’s a principle that should be applied to housing, too.

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