Very rarely do I feel compelled to write about current issues, notwithstanding the employee housing situation in Whistler is out of control.
I have been following various employee housing proposals for quite some time now and I (and many business people in Whistler) was shocked to see the Whistler Three proposal, by Vision Pacific, (Tim Regan), thrown into the overflowing waste bin of employee housing proposals. Maybe council needs a $200,000 study of housing needs in Whistler. It appears that some councillors and the mayor feel we dont need employee housing or it is not the problem of the RMOW.
Well save the time and the money and let me provide some insight!
To say we (Whistler community) have enough housing or there is enough in the pipeline is ludicrous! For those of you in power thinking this way I am embarrassed for you! Wake up and smell the coffee! (Double shot cappuccino).
I am aware that there are some proposals in various stages of approval, but none on the forefront such as Tim Regans Whistler Three. Plus we will need a combination of 3 to 5 projects to achieve the necessary beds for buildout.
This winter was the worst on record for staff housing shortages. A stroll through the village would reveal help wanted signs in 95 per cent of stores. Newspaper career sections containing another six pages of career/jobs. Employment Canada having full job boards. The problem is no one to fill the shoes! WHY? Because every available nook and cranny already has 3 or 4 or 6 people crammed into it. As a director of the WCC, I can tell you the WCC board has spent countless hours looking at proposals, developing strategies to bring unused beds into service and looking at way to alleviate housing shortages. The WCC has for two years now done a survey from its membership via fax and e-mail to determine the number of employees each company was short. Those results (February 2001, 150 respondents) show a 1 to 4 person shortage times 150 business equal 360 beds needed yesterday.
This winter within my two small companies we had two long-term employees leave at the beckoning call of their families. Not only were we unable to replace them, coupled with the need for three other employees, I had to exchange a management position for a front line position in our wireless communications store.
Now that we have clearly established the need for housing, lets look at the specific proposal. The Whistler Three proposal does not appear to be "greedy". What I mean is the developer will build and subsidize 470 employee beds with restrictive covenants on them and in turn develop 11 homes in White Gold and seven in Whistler Cay for a total of only 18 homes.
If mayor and council are looking for the "perfect scenario" regarding employee housing I say again: "HELLO, WAKE UP!
Surely there are issues with the various sites and density within this project, and yes it is ambitious. But, council needs to take a proactive approach to the situation now. Look for the answer, dont be the problem. I have spoken with some councillors regarding the issues ie:
1) Location of Trophy Homes in White Gold, no big deal here. It wont negatively impact the neighbourhood and has reasonably low density.
2) Cost and liability of the project. The developer appears to have sufficient resources and backing and should they fail, remember two things a)its their money at risk, no public funds are at risk; b)If they had to file bankruptcy there is a ton of equity already invested and it would be a steal for either a private company or a combination of WHA and RMOW to purchase and complete.
3) Cost of project vs. number of market lots vs. size of trophy homes with only 18 market homes to recover. The subsidized portion of the employee housing the developer probably needs all 18 to complete the deal. If the Whistler Cay site should be cut to five lots then whats wrong with allowing homes over 5,000 square feet on other lots? Remember these homes pay huge property tax and the RMOW needs to increase its tax base (to pay councillors and staff wages).
4) Environmental issues can be dealt with and are not severe, including blowing the cap off the knoll. Many non-employee projects have completely re-arranged the landscape before.
In closing, I would like to point out that each time we lose a project like this it is gone forever, redeveloped without any employee beds. The Whistler Housing Authority is almost out of funds and wont be purchasing any of its own land any time soon.
I would like to express that although I am a director of the WCC, the opinions expressed in this letter are not those of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, but of the writer.
Mayor and council, please call Tim Regan back to the table, make the deal and lets move forward.