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New Cheakamus owners can't opt out of DES

While current users can opt out of heating system, Basalt Living owners won't have same option



Months after the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) gave homeowners in Cheakamus Crossing the chance to opt out of the neighbourhood's controversial heating system, municipal hall confirmed incoming owners at a new development wouldn't have the same opportunity.

In a recent letter to mayor and council, realtor Steve Shuster, who is representing the developer of the 24-unit Basalt Living Whistler, wrote that "the majority of the buyers have expressed concern" over the District Energy System (DES), an ambient heating system installed ahead of the 2010 Olympics that has led to a litany of technical issues and costly repair bills for some residents.

"The majority (of buyers) are from Whistler and Vancouver and they read the Pique and they hear all the frustration with the current people using the system," Shuster said in a follow-up interview.

"We just feel that it's a system that has flaws and ... there will be less headaches for the municipality and less headaches for any owners if they have an option to opt out."

In October, council greenlit a proposal to allow dissatisfied DES users to begin disconnecting from the system—at their own expense. So far, none of the owners of the 174 townhomes on the system have chosen to opt out. But residents who have already faced thousands of dollars in repairs argued that the cost of replacing a heating system they say was flawed from Day 1 shouldn't fall on their shoulders.

"This does not address all the money people have spent, it does not address all the money you would have to spend to (replace the system)," said Tony Routley, neighbourhood appointee to the Cheakamus DES volunteer committee, in October.

"Right now, I don't think (the municipality is) dealing with it equitably at all."

In his letter, Shuster noted how he was given the option to connect or not to the DES when he moved into his family home on Madeley Place. A communications spokesperson for the RMOW explained that owners on Madeley Place were given that option because the single-family lots there did not have a covenant requiring owners to connect to the DES.

"In contrast, the 1330 Cloudburst Drive (future Basalt townhomes) had a DES covenant registered on title, and the owners are therefore required to connect to the DES," the email reads.

Councillor Steve Anderson countered the RMOW's position, arguing that new owners should be given the same chance to opt out as current users.

"I don't really see the system performing as sold," he said.

"I sense there are a lot of issues with it and I've heard from a heck of a lot of people that are on the DES currently that are not very pleased about it, and they're looking for options."

The RMOW spokesperson also pointed to a report commissioned last year by Cheakamus developer Whistler 2020 Development Corporation and senior RMOW staff that concluded there were "no systemic failures" with the DES. This despite the RMOW's decision to allow users to opt out, as well as granting some financial relief to owners in the form of a $350,000 loan to municipal subsidiary WDC to help cover repair costs.