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Ponce de Leon moving ahead with temporary housing plans

VANOC will also likely build its own housing complex on Holborn property

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One of two temporary housing projects slated to go on the Holborn property got the thumbs up from Whistler council on Tuesday night.

Alvaro Ponce de Leon, the man behind the Whistler Workforce Temporary Housing project, said despite the low demand from local businesses, he still plans to erect more than 400 beds in the housing complex by this winter.

The North Vancouver-based developer and architect has replaced the temporary buildings with more trailer-like units to decrease his costs as well as make it easier for his builders to assemble and dismantle.

Now, he is starting to get requests from a few local businesses as well as inquiries from non-accredited media, national Olympic teams like the Canadian Bobsleigh Team and security personnel.

"There is also a group of German workers that are willing to come," added Ponce de Leon. "There are 100 of them and they are looking for affordable accommodation."

While Ponce de Leon reworks his plans for the Whistler Workforce complex, another group is also deeply in negotiations with Holborn Holdings Ltd., the company that owns the plot of land next to the Whistler Racquet Club and Wildwood Bar and Bistro near Whistler Village.

The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympics Games (VANOC) would like to house about 300 of their workers on the Holborn site during the Olympic period, according to Ponce de Leon.

The VANOC complex will be built using Britco buildings, said Ponce de Leon. And Whistler Workforce plans to share some of its servicing features - like water and electrical systems - with the VANOC complex.

Mayor Ken Melamed also confirmed that VANOC is interested in housing Olympic workers on the property.

"VANOC has been looking at the site," said the mayor after the council meeting.

"They talked to Ponce de Leon to see if they could collaborate and VANOC then made a decision not to collaborate. Each are going down their own path. Ponce de Leon has made a commitment. VANOC has yet to formalize theirs."

Melamed added that VANOC would need to get a Temporary Commercial Use Permit (TCUP) from the municipality in order to build such a complex.

VANOC, however, would not comment on their plans.

A spokesperson with the committee stated negotiations are ongoing and arrangements should soon be finalized.

If Ponce de Leon is successful building more than 400 beds on the Holborn site and VANOC also brings in another 300-or-so units, that could mean over 700 temporary bed units that haven't yet been approved by the municipality will be erected within Whistler for this winter.

Ponce de Leon needs to get development and building permits from the municipality in order to get Whistler Workforce on the ground, although Melamed said municipal staff are working to deliver these documents within the next four to six weeks.

The latest version of Ponce de Leon's blueprints involves a series of simple, box-like modular buildings ranging in size from one storey to possibly three storeys tall.

The buildings would contain single occupancy rooms as well as shared rooms with bunk beds. Each building would have access to a kitchen and a common room with tables, chairs and TVs capable of accommodating 120 people.

The bathrooms would have sinks and showers and there would also be laundry rooms.

"They will have the same amount of services that any other dorm room has," Ponce de Leon told council, adding that he has 12 consultants working on the project to make sure everything is up to code.

"They will be the best standards that you have ever seen... That is guaranteed. We are not bringing in something that is shabby or something like that. You have my word."

Ponce de Leon has hired a local cleaning company to make sure the complex stays clean, and he plans to accommodate a housing manager.

The developer added local businesses are now starting to show some interest in his project, with many companies asking to house their employees between Dec. 15 and April 15. Businesses are also are more interested in renting the bunk bed rooms rather than the single occupancy rooms.

Melamed thanked Ponce de Leon for his presentation but also clearly stated the municipality or the Whistler Housing Authority will not be on the hook for this complex if the developer's plans fall through.

"With a clear understanding, this is not a municipal project," said Melamed.

"This is 100 per cent the undertaking of yourself and your partners. I want to stress again that the operation and the management needs to be addressed so during Games time, other organizations do not have to concern themselves with the efficient functioning of the operations."

Following the Games, Ponce de Leon said his complex can be dismantled within two to three weeks. He has also submitted a letter of credit to the municipality to guarantee he will leave on time.

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