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Function residential project goes to public

Council concerned about putting resident housing so close to rail tracks



Municipal staff has raised a red flag about building a resident housing complex in Function Junction close to the railway tracks.

At Monday's meeting, staff highlighted safety and noise concerns that may stem from putting a low-rise apartment complex next to the rail right of way.

Despite those concerns council voted to allow the 30-unit project to go to a public open house before casting their final vote on its future.

"It really isn't one of our best choices for that kind of accommodation," said Councillor Kristi Wells, adding that she was prepared to see the proposal move to an open house to hear what the public had to say.

The main sticking point at Monday's meeting was the project’s proximity to the rail line.

In his presentation to council Bill Brown, the municipality's manager of current planning, highlighted the distance from the proposed building at the north end of Function to the train tracks.

Providing a list of examples from other jurisdictions, Brown showed just how close this building would sit in comparison. In Toronto there is a 30 metre setback from the rail right of way. Surrey requires a 75.5 metre setback.

This building would have just a 2.6 metre (or 8.5 foot) setback.

Developer Don Wensley would like to see the resident housing building next to his latest Function project, the big green commercial/retail building at the north of the industrial park.

Councillor Nick Davies questioned why it would be all right to build a commercial building at that same setback to the rail right of way, and not allow a residential building the same distance. Why are the lives of people that are at home in their residences more valuable than the lives of people engaged in their daily occupation, he asked.

When asked the difference Brown replied that intuitively there is a difference. Davies disagreed.

"Intuitively I don't think there is any difference."

Brown also reminded council that they have had two complaints recently from people unable to sleep due to the noise from the trains. Neither complaint was from residents in Function Junction.

Bob MacPherson, general manager of planning and development, said though the resident housing building would be 2.6 metres from the rail right of way, it is actually 18 metres (or 60 feet) from the centre line of the tracks.

"This is not a building intended to satisfy every resident housing need," said MacPherson candidly.

But he said staff believes it can fill a niche in the market.

The developers are also planning to build another commercial building on the site, opposite the existing commercial building.

The proposed development highlights the pros and cons of putting resident housing in Whistler's industrial park.

Working against the project are factors such as the smell coming from the sewage treatment plant, which is still three years away from being fixed, as well as concerns about the nearby zoning which technically allows a concrete plant to be built next door.

In addition, the closest bus stop is about a 10 minute walk away from the building and the roads in Function have no sidewalks for pedestrians.

On the flip side, the building would add to the Whistler Housing Authority inventory and give 30 people the chance to purchase a housing unit in Whistler. It is expected most of the people buying those units would work in Function and would therefore live close to their work.

Wensley is also hoping the municipality could bring the bus service down to the north end of Function.

If approved the units could be ready for the residents on the housing waitlist by the end of the year.

The municipality will hold an open house in the coming weeks.

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