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Public to comment on housing recommendations

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Members of the public will now get a crack at reviewing some of the non-cost housing recommendations recently put forward by a task force.

A public open house on Tuesday, March 11 will highlight some of the bylaw changes proposed by the task force. These changes are designed to encourage property owners to create more resident housing on their properties.

If the zoning bylaws are changed, property owners in Whistler will have much more flexibility to provide an employee suite somewhere on their lot.

Among the task force’s recommendations requiring a bylaw change are:

• allowing detached employee suites or cottages in the front or back yard;

• allowing employee suites above a detached garage;

• allowing a bonus density of up to 600 square feet for a restricted employee suite only where a 0.35 FSR (floor space ratio) is possible; and

• increasing the minimum suite size to roughly 970 square feet in keeping with the B.C. Building Code.

While Councillor Nick Davies praised the work of the task force, he also recognized that these recommendations are just a drop in the bucket and the municipality has to recognize the housing shortfall for all segments of the community.

"I think the results of this task force are excellent," said Davies at Monday’s council meeting.

"(But) I don’t think that these recommendations go far enough.

"I think middle level management people in Canada have an expectation that they would like to own their own single family home... and these recommendations do nothing to address that expectation."

His answer to this problem was to look at increasing the allowable FSR on lots as well as decreasing the setbacks. This would allow people to build reasonably sized homes on smaller properties.

The task force, made up of a variety of citizens from developers and real estate agents to local businessman, met every Friday for one month to flesh out these initiatives. They recognized they would not be able to delve deep into the issues due to the task force’s time constraints.

The non-cost initiatives were just the first step to plug the increasing leakage of employee housing in Whistler. That leakage is occurring at an increasingly rapid pace as fewer property owners build suites or rent their suites, among other factors.

A handful of the task force’s recommendations will be effective immediately. Those include:

• making sure that employee housing is a percentage of the total gross floor area of any new development;

• allowing underutilized space in strata complexes to be converted to employee units;

• allowing developers or homeowners off-site conversions so they can buy market stock and convert it to deed-restricted employee units;

• and finally, to quantify the results of these non-cost measures, aiming for a 25 per cent increase in the number of employee suites each year.

Councillor Kristi Wells, who was also the chair of the task force, encouraged staff to apply these policies to any applications currently before staff as well as any future proposals.

"Hopefully it will consider all applications that are in the process, not just the new ones," she said.

She was concerned about one initiative presented to council but not discussed in depth by the task force. That initiative called for the creation of tax incentives for properties with secondary suites.

"Really nice idea," she said.

"I don’t think it’s at all possible."

Wells pointed to the uphill battle with the province to get equity on school taxes, adding that the municipality shouldn’t lobby for tax breaks on suites too. She asked that the recommendation be taken off the list.

There was some discussion at the meeting about a supplemental Home Owners Grant that would be municipally funded. John Nelson, general manager of corporate services with the RMOW, said in discussions the province has indicated that they would look favourably on a municipal type Home Owners Grant because the municipality would fund it.

In the end council decided to keep the recommendation on the list and present it to the public.

Councillor Caroline Lamont, while pleased with the efforts of the task force, expressed some disappointed about the proposed communication strategy designed to make the public aware of the extreme need for employee suites.

In the recommendation it says that the campaign will be targeted to local service organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club.

Lamont said those organizations truly understand the housing crunch whereas it’s the second homeowners who may not understand the importance of the recommendations.

She said these people are the real target audience of the proposed communication strategy.

The public open house will be held on Tuesday, March 11 from 4 to 6 p.m. at council chambers in municipal hall. All members of the public are invited to attend and provide input.

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