Despite some ongoing concerns about the proposed Rainbow development, the clear message from the community Monday night was for council to approve the project as quickly as possible.
"Please get on with it," said former alderman and long-time resident Garry Watson, adding that council holds the lives and ambitions of people on the employee housing waitlist in their hands.
He echoed earlier comments from Jill Almond, who said she believes the employee housing shortage is at a critical state.
"I think it’s vital that we keep moving it forward," she said.
Rainbow is Whistler’s biggest employee housing project to date. It is effectively a new subdivision in the north end of town that will be 80 per cent employee housing – price restricted housing designed for local employees.
After almost a year and a half of negotiations, Rainbow has cleared one of its last major hurdles – the public hearing. Monday night marked the community’s last chance to speak out about the project to council.
More than a dozen community members, among a crowd of more than 60, gave council their two cents, most in favour of the deal despite some ongoing concerns.
Local realtor Stuart Munro, one of Rainbow’s biggest proponents from the outset, now has his doubts about the project’s affordability for resident employees.
Munro and his family are one of the 70 families on the Whistler Housing Authority single-family home waitlist, pre-approved for a mortgage of $450,000 or more.
By his calculations, which include the $110,000 cost of the land, the cost to build, plus the GST, development cost charges, garage construction, and landscaping, the cost of a 2,200 square foot price restricted home in Rainbow will be close to $650,000.
Will there be a market for restricted housing at that price he asked council, among other questions.
Munro admitted he was having his doubts about buying into Rainbow even after waiting for four years for a single family home in Whistler.
"I firmly believe that the municipality will somehow have to take the price of the land ($110,000) out of the equation to make it affordable," he said.
If affordability was top of mind for Munro, there were still more concerns from other community members.
"I think that the commercial aspect of this project is very much lacking," said resident Bill Overing.
He compared the commercial amenities in the south end of town, such as the restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and the bank at Creekside, to the proposed commercial space at Rainbow.
Council recently negotiated with the developer to reduce the commercial space slightly. There will still be a restaurant, grocery store, video store, coffee shop and other local personal commercial spaces, in the Rainbow development.
"I think that the people at the other end of town should have the same rights (as Creekside residents to amenities)," said Overing.
Resident Richard Wyne echoed this concern. He also drew council’s attention to the lack of parking for residents on the site, at 1.5 spots per household.
"Nobody wants to pave paradise," said Wyne. At the same time, employee housing stratas in Whistler commonly have a problem with the lack of parking. What’s the point in creating a problem at the outset, asked Wyne.
By and large, however, the community supports the deal. Almost everyone who spoke reiterated the need for the employee housing even if they had some concerns about specific aspects of this project.
There will be at least 220 units of resident housing in various shapes and sizes at Rainbow.
The 51 units of market housing will need specially created bed units – the municipality’s tool for measuring growth in the valley.
No one at the public hearing raised concerns about those new bed units.
Council will consider the comments from the public hearing before moving the rezoning bylaws forward. In the meantime council, with the support of the WHA board of directors, has agreed to ask one-time housing expeditor Steve Bayly to continue to facilitate the Rainbow deal on a volunteer basis. Bayly, who brokered the deal with the developer on behalf of the WHA at the end of 2004, will be asked to continue to represent the WHA’s interests as the project unfolds.