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Interest in Phoenix project soars

Businesses sign up for more than 300 beds, even though only 210 are available



With the overwhelming popularity for the Phoenix initiative — Whistler’s proposed temporary solution to the seasonal housing crunch — the 210 temporary beds are already oversubscribed.

As of Monday morning, 37 businesses had put their names down on the Whistler Chamber of Commerce’s online waiting list, calling for more than 327 beds. And that number does not even include some of Whistler’s major employers, said chamber president Louise Lundy.

“At this point, we’ll have to figure out a fair process for distribution,” said Lundy.

“I think what will probably happen is the bigger businesses will be reduced fairly significantly, versus a small business.”

Lundy said the chamber is looking into how to give small businesses enough beds without reducing requests from big businesses too much. How early businesses expressed interest will also be taken into account.

“I honestly can’t confirm how that will happen, but for us, a success is including as many businesses as we possibly can so everybody can take advantage of it,” she said, adding that distribution will likely be via a draft process.

A rezoning application to see if extra beds can be procured will also go before council on May 20 for first and second reading. The Holborn site, where the temporary housing will be erected, is currently zoned for 210 beds (five buildings). Supplier SG Blocks said they can fit up to 294 beds (seven buildings) on site.

According to Councillor Gord McKeever, rezoning could be granted by the end of July, since the process will be expedited to get the units built and ready for occupancy Nov. 1.

“I can’t speak to the outcome, but if I was a betting man, I would be pretty sure that they (council) are going to be supportive,” said McKeever.

“Council and staff get it. It is a process we’ve never invested in, creating temporary housing… but the need is real, and it is clearly understood.”

Lundy said the expedited process is critical, since SG Blocks has to start planning soon whether to build five buildings or seven buildings.

Each building will be three storeys high, with 42 bedrooms each. Bedrooms will be 7 feet by 8 feet (or 2.1 metres by 2.4 metres), and the common living area will be 12 feet by 25 feet (or 3.7 metres by 7.6 metres).

Bruce Russell, managing director for SG Blocks, said the company would not have taken on the project if they thought it was not possible.

“The town has done a great job, and now we all just have the challenge to work together and get it done,” said Russell.

“We are feeling confident that if things keep moving, it will work. We have no time to sit on our hands, but we are excited.”

He added that SG Blocks designed the buildings to get as many bedrooms into the space as possible, while still allowing for the structures to be temporary.

Russell also said the buildings are designed to look permanent.

“We decided to approach this as a permanent building that has a temporary use,” said Russell.

“Because of that we were able to make it look prettier on the outside aesthetically, because when we saw the site… we thought it just had to feel better.”

The buildings will be made out of converted shipping containers that were lying unused in docks throughout the United States. Lease agreements will go from Nov. 1, 2008 until April 30, 2010, with each bed renting for $650 a month.

The chamber will be contacting employers who signed up for the housing between May 15 and May 28. Lease agreements and deposits of $1,950 must be collected by May 28. An open house has also been scheduled for the afternoon of May 20 to give more information on the temporary housing buildings.

And Lundy said the chamber is still collecting names of interested employers.

“We are going to give everybody a chance to read the papers. People are just finding out about it now, so we want to make sure everybody has the best opportunity to get in,” she said.

“I think we are going to see a lot more people sign up as people really start to see how it will work and how it will benefit them.”

-With files from Clare Ogilvie

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