By Clare Ogilvie
Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed has some serious concerns about relaxing a bylaw for the 2010 Olympics so that homeowners could rent out their houses to visitors.
His fear is that absentee homeowners would evict local residents in the hopes of cashing in on the Games by renting out accommodation for large profits.
“Two-thirds of our employees are living in market accommodation,” said Melamed.
“The last thing we want is mass evictions, just prior to the Games, so that we have employees out on the street, no way to operate the resort, and we have created incredibly bad will. We could not in conscience do that.”
The idea, originally mentioned by Melamed at a spring Chamber of Commerce meeting, has come up again as the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games struggles to find affordable accommodation for media, broadcasters and other user groups who want to stay in Whistler during the Olympics.
Earlier this week VANOC suggested to the IOC that it would house media and others on cruise ships in Squamish. The IOC press commission shot down the idea. But VANOC is still investigating it.
Melamed, however, does not think relaxing bylaws to allow for temporary accommodation in order to house media is acceptable.
“I personally don’t think this is a solution for media accommodation,” he said.
At this point there is no plan to go forward with a change to the bylaw but, said Melamed, it will likely be investigated as the strategic plan for the Games comes to light.
“The strategic plans for the Games will be rolled out this fall and I think (that’s when) we will start having this conversation,” he said.
“But this falls into the category of the many things we have to investigate for the Games.”
“We have, as part of our commitment to be a good partner, to do what is best for the Games. But we did also make a number of promises to the community saying we would participate but maintain the character of the town and not let the Olympics force us into decisions that are not consistent with our policies and values.
“This is really VANOC’s challenge.”
There is no doubt that Whistler will be packed to the gunnels for the Games. That’s why, said Melamed, VANOC should still consider building a temporary village for the media.
Originally the media village was to be built on the old gravel pit near the athletes’ village in the Cheakamus.
“There is a tremendous amount of vacant land that could be temporarily programmed for the Games,” said Melamed pointing to the three golf courses, which lie dormant all winter, the Cal-Cheak campground and other sites.
But Nejat Sarp, VANOC’s vice-president of accommodation and villages, said the idea of a temporary village is dead.
“Looking at numbers and options it is something we can avoid,” he said. “(We believe we can) find a solution to (this) without having to go down that road.”
Sarp said the contract with the IOC outlines that VANOC must secure 2,500 beds in Whistler. Ninety per-cent of that accommodation has been secured.
RMOW figures show that there are 2,500 tourist accommodation-zoned properties and 4,000 hotel rooms, bed and breakfasts, pensions and hostels in Whistler.
Sarp said more discussion would take place with the IOC press commission when it visits in early November but for now VANOC will pursue securing more accommodation in Whistler.
“We want to continue to have dialogue with the hotel industry, the tourism board, and the RMOW community and see if we can increase the inventory,” said Sarp.