More businesses got beds in the Phoenix housing project this week after the Whistler Chamber of Commerce was able to squeeze 14 more beds onto the Holborn property.
That brings the total number of employees that will be housed in the project’s seven temporary buildings, from November this year to after the 2010 Winter Games, to 308.
“Our original goal was between 180 and 250 beds, so to have 308 is fantastic,” said Louise Lundy, chamber president, on July 22.
“There were some requirements by the municipality to restructure some of the buildings, and therefore we actually ended up gaining some beds as a result of that.”
Specifically, the chamber decided to turn the utility building into a three-storey building to better accommodate snow shedding.
“It is less than we need, but it is more than we had, so it is progress,” said Councillor Gord McKeever. McKeever sits on the H.O.M.E. committee, a task force developed by local businesses to find a solution to Whistler’s housing crunch which helped spawn the Phoenix initiative.
A bylaw adopted by council on Monday further made possible the additional units. Specifically, the bylaw extended the allowable gross floor area for employee housing from 2,000 square metres to 3,500 square metres. Municipal staff rushed the bylaw through the legislative process, including approval from the Ministry of Transportation, to make sure the homes could be ready for occupancy by November.
“We made a point of giving it third reading directly after the public hearing… and our staff did a great job of following through,” said McKeever.
“The Ministry of Transportation and their staff at that end were also really co-operative. They pushed this to the top of the pile. Their approving officer was actually out of the office and dealt with it by cell phone, so they really went above and beyond.”
The Phoenix project is a temporary, non-profit solution to Whistler’s anticipated housing crunch over the next two years. Lundy said the extra 14 beds have already been filled through the chamber’s running waitlist, which still has requests for another 200 beds. Leases for the first 294 beds were signed by the end of May this year.
American supplier SG Blocks has already purchased the shipping containers, previously destined for the landfill, and is now fabricating them at their factory by cutting out doors and windows. The company plans to complete a building every seven days, and the units will begin arriving in Whistler by truck in August.
The final fabrication stages will then take place in Whistler. SG Blocks has told the chamber they can move a three-storey building onto a built foundation within three days.
Lundy stressed that the buildings will not look anything like the yellow and red trailers currently sitting on the old Highways site. Those trailers are a lower end type of modular unit and were used as waxing huts for the World Cup races in February.
“They have nothing to do with our housing project. Our housing project will not look like a modular, trailer type park. It will basically look, in every sense of the word, like a Whistler style apartment complex,” she said.
Lundy added that the building interiors will be completely covered with dry wall, as well have nice external cladding, wood trim and finishes, so you will not be able to tell they were made from metal containers.
The housing complex will consist of seven buildings, each three-storeys tall, made out of modified shipping containers. Each floor in the housing complex will have a kitchen and a bathroom for groups of three- or four-bedrooms, as well as a common area and a balcony shared by all 14 rooms. There will also be a small locker for each occupant. Rooms rent for $650 a month.
While the beds at the Phoenix project are oversubscribed, the chamber is encouraging businesses who have not come forward yet to express their interest. Lundy said that if a major employer decides for whatever reason that they no longer want to be part of the project, an extra 30 beds could be freed up.
The 4500 Northlands Boulevard site where the housing will go is part of a five-hectare piece of property, home to the Whistler Racquet Club and the Wildwood Bar and Bistro.