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Employee, seniors housing proposed for Rainbow

Large-scale development could address Whistler’s housing needs through 2010

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A development deal is in the works which could solve Whistler's employee housing problems right through to the 2010 Olympics.

If approved, there could be 300 new housing units, mostly employee housing, on a prime spot of land in between Alpine Meadows and Emerald Estates called the Rainbow lands.

"This is a whole new neighbourhood designed specifically for Whistler residents," said Rod Nadeau, a local developer and one of several partners in the Rainbow site, who confirmed that negotiations were taking place.

The deal as proposed will see a mixture of all types of employee housing, from 70 single family homes to 48 rental condos. In addition, 40 employee housing duplexes and 50 townhomes, both for purchase, are also part of the project.

To make the deal work for the landowners, it is proposed there be unrestricted market housing in the form of 35 single family homes and 16 townhouses.

Rounding off the residential development is 40 seniors housing units, both price restricted and unrestricted, as well as ownership and rental opportunities.

A new gas station, a fire hall, a small grocery store, a coffee shop and a day care facility are also part of the project.

The board of the Whistler Housing Authority has already seen the project and board member Councillor Gordon McKeever said this could be very good news for the hundreds of Whistler residents waiting for a chance to buy employee housing in Whistler.

"It's outstanding news for them," he said.

"The worst (thing) for most of those people is there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Even if it takes a year or two to deliver (this housing), knowing that it’s there, well, it gives them another year or two to build their deposits. Knowing that it’s there, they can have hope, they can stay on in the community instead of looking south of here… and looking north to Pemberton…"

If the deal moves ahead this summer, developers could begin in 2006 and build the housing in phases until 2010.

"It would take about four to five years to build it out," said Nadeau. "Essentially we'd be going about designing a whole neighbourhood."

Whistler's "housing expeditor," Steve Bayly, who was hired by the municipality last November to pursue employee housing opportunities, brokered the deal by bringing together representatives from Rainbow and the municipality. Bayly confirmed this week that both sides, the municipality and the Rainbow landowners, have agreed on the business terms and the guiding principles of the project to date.

The only thing yet to be worked out are the contingencies, or as Bayly explained, the "what ifs," particularly as the project will take place over several years. For example, what if interest rates spike in three years or what if construction costs go up?

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