Lorimer housing proposal essential or unnecessary By Bob Barnett The proposed Lorimer Road employee housing project produced two-way traffic and a head-on collision at Tuesday’s public hearing. Supporters of the project emphasized the need for this type of rental housing, aimed at middle management people making less than $30,000 annually, while opponents questioned the need for additional employee housing. The proposal by the Whistler Housing Authority is for six one-bedroom, six two-bedroom and two three-bedroom rental units in four buildings, located on 1.16 acres at the foot of Lorimer Road, next to Tapley’s Farm. Tapley’s Farm resident Brian Buchholz cited the number of classified ads for rental accommodations over the last 10 months as evidence there isn’t a demand for rental housing, and suggested the 1997 CitySpaces employee housing needs assessment was no longer valid. The proposal would create a "disturbance and an imbalance in the neighbourhood and is no longer needed." Buchholz said. Rick Staehli, general manager of the housing authority, agreed the market has softened somewhat in recent months but said the demand for rental housing in the summer is traditionally lower than at other times of the year. Staehli said some of the suites and houses for rent in the classifieds are "affordable" but a lot are not. "I believe very firmly this (current oversupply) is a short-term situation. It takes 2-3 years to build housing. "If we multiplied all the classified ads by 2, in other words if there was double the amount of rental accommodation that is listed, we would still have a shortfall. A healthy market is when you have a vacancy rate of 1-3 per cent. We’re not anywhere near .5 per cent yet." Buchholz countered that Staehli’s comments were like his, based on "feelings" and "beliefs" rather than hard evidence. Another Tapley’s Farm resident also questioned the need for employee housing now and suggested that when buildout is reached the need for employee housing is going to be much less, because all the construction workers will have left town. The WHA is conducting a survey to assess the current demand for housing and should have results by end of September. In the future the WHA will be conducting surveys every six months to monitor the demand. Drew Meredith said the CitySpaces study has its weaknesses, "but anything we’re going to deliver falls far short of what we’re going to need." Meredith said a lot of the rental housing now available is in illegal suites in old cabins and houses. Those places are eventually going to be torn down and new, expensive homes will likely be built on those lots. He suggested most of those homeowners will not want to rent their homes to employees. "We’re not going to meet the present demand and we’re going to lose a lot of rental housing in the future," Meredith said. He also pointed to Aspen, which he characterized as still 15 years ahead of Whistler in this area. "At some point they threw up their hands and said ‘we can’t deal with this politically’ and they appointed a board to deal with it. They abdicated political responsibility," Meredith said. "There aren’t many sites in this valley where we’re going to be able to provide employee housing. I think there’s an opportunity here still to do good, sensitive infill projects." In response to Helene Steiner, who said she had been having trouble renting her house in the current market, Councillor Ken Melamed noted that the municipality and the housing authority are trying to secure places with stable, long-term rental prices, rather than have rents fluctuate wildly with the market. Buchholz said it was unfair and unjust to say Tapley’s Farm is against this project because it’s in its back yard. "It’s not about rental housing, it’s that the project doesn’t fit in the neighbourhood," he said. Buchholz suggested the site could be used for other purposes, such as an artist’s residence or an environmental education centre. Alpine Meadows resident Ed Zinkevich suggested Tapley’s Farm residents were wasting their time opposing the project. "This council is deaf to the community’s wishes. You think you can’t stop this project — they’ve been bought!" Council, as is its custom when there is opposition at a public hearing, did not consider third reading. The project should be on the agenda for the Aug. 17 council meeting.