By Loreth Beswetherick In some cultures elders still play a pivotal role in their communities. Their wisdom and experience is valued by the young. The years of work they have put towards building their community is like an insurance that falls due when bones are frail and the community steps in to pay its collective dues by taking care of its seniors. In Whistler they move. In Whistler, seniors who want to retire in place say they have been knocking their heads against the sentiment the town is a playground only for the young. There is a perception they came early, made big bucks on the back of the resort’s success and they don’t need housing concessions from the municipality. But, a group of seniors working to develop a retirement complex for locals only is not looking to turn a profit. Apart from bed units, they are not asking for subsidies either. The Mature Action Committee, formed in 1994, has been lobbying to build the project but were close to giving up hope... until now. MAC chairman Ted Ralfe said the group had its first "really, really positive" meeting with the Whistler Housing Authority Dec. 9 and now its time to get serious. "They indicated to us for the first time that we have a real chance of qualifying outside the cap for the project we have in mind," Ralfe told MAC members at the committee’s annual general meeting last week. "We also seem to have entered into some real discussion with muni hall." He said MAC had been looking at land for many years but there was no point in exploring options further until they had indication the project could fly. "We didn’t have that feeling but now we have had a positive reaction." He said MAC now plans to work lock-step with the housing authority on the project and will agree to restrictions on resale and ownership similar to those for employee housing. The hope is the authority will in turn "become our conduit to usher it through council." MAC has identified about seven acres of suitable land near the village and members voted to give the board authority to negotiate and make a conditional offer. They are not keen on tipping their hand and don’t want to reveal which parcel they are looking at but a rezoning application for seniors housing on the Den Duyf property between Spruce Grove and White Gold has been submitted to the planning department. The plan is to broker a deal with the aid of the housing authority. They have also looked at other properties, some of which could fit their scheme as well as satisfy housing authority needs. Ralfe noted rural land values in the Whistler area were softening with the bed unit cap "solidifying." He said the 14- to 15-acre Rainbow property which recently sold for $1.37 million was an example. "It was on the market for a hell of a lot more a few years ago when we were looking," said Ralfe. "Owners of these lands realize there is no chance of being able to subdivide and sell unless they play nicely with the housing authority." MAC vice-chair Gordon Tomalty said the prohibitive cost of property has been the biggest obstacle to date. "We couldn’t afford land before. Now we can start talking about it." Last week was also the first time MAC started to talk funds with its members. "Once we have tied up the property, long before we close, we are going to have to spend some serious money on consultants and architects," said Ralfe. "We better start thinking about that." He estimated about $20,000 per unit would have to be put up front, "long before we get a spade in the ground." Ralfe did his math based on the potential construction of about 14 units to start. He said the project would be done in phases — two or more probably, three. That would bring the complex to around 42 one and two-bedroom units. "We are getting in a positive position to make a move but it is going to be time to pay the piper." Tomalty said MAC will make it clear to the housing authority that members won’t stand to make money. Any members who leave the complex will have to sell back to the society. Re-sale value will be based on a formula similar to that of employee housing and likely tied into the cost of living index. "The object is not to build equity," said Ralfe. Future members will be wait-listed in a similar fashion to employee housing waitlists. It was noted MAC may be able to build under the $155 per square foot affordability guidelines established by the housing authority because there will be no profit motive as has been the case in some private partnerships to construct resident housing. Ralfe said WHA general manager Rick Staehli made it crystal clear that not in a million years would the project fly if it looked as if members stood to gain financially. It was also made clear the project will not be designed to attract outsiders. "Nothing that does will fly with the housing authority and council," said Ralfe. He told members he was impressed with Staehli’s wealth of knowledge in the industry and Tomalty said the WHA "was just a fountain" of information, advice and support. "I was starting to lose enthusiasm for MAC. After this meeting my enthusiasm jumped 150 per cent, but we have got to do this with the community and with the housing authority. We can’t do it alone." MAC will now work actively to boost membership. As board director Howard Goldsmid said: instead of retiring to a small room, alone somewhere, Whistler’s seniors want a place they can retire to together, in their community. "Socially, that’s good."