By Alison Taylor
Whistler’s mayor is cautioning Rainbow’s developers to stick to
their 2009 timeframe in order to protect the municipality’s own housing project
at the athletes’ village.
“We’re not prepared to just keep extending (Rainbow),” he said
this week. “It can’t go past 2009.”
The municipality’s guarantee that the developers will stick to
their tight timelines is through a business deal, which has yet to be approved.
As per the original agreement, the business deal sees the
Whistler Housing Authority backstop the project, meaning it will buy the
single-family lots for $110,000 each if the developer cannot sell them to people
on the WHA waitlist.
“The position we’ve taken is that if they’re not ready by a
fixed date, we won’t purchase those lots,” said the mayor.
And, if the homes aren’t ready according to the schedule, they
won’t go on the marketplace until after the athletes’ village is sold, sometime
following the 2010 Olympics.
“The potential result would be that the developer is going to
have to finance and carry his project for three or four years longer than they
expected. That may make it uneconomical for the developer. We don’t know.
That’s going to be their choice.”
The mayor’s comments Tuesday morning came on the heels of an
update to council on the progress of the Rainbow housing development, which is
supposed to deliver roughly 220 units of employee housing including single
family homes, duplexes and apartments, phased over the next three years.
The project, said Bob MacPherson, the municipality’s general
manager of planning and development, is under tough, aggressive timelines.
Developers have promised to deliver 50 units — a mixture
of single family and duplexes — by Christmas 2007. The remaining units
will be up for sale in 2008 and 2009.
Developer Rod Nadeau reiterated his commitment to that schedule
again this week.
“I’m working really hard to make that happen and so are a lot
of people,” he said. “All the pieces are starting to fall in place in time with
our schedule, which is great.”
Their intention, he said, is to build the houses and sell them
on schedule and never have the WHA buy anything. But council was told Monday
night that there isn’t much “wiggle room” if things go wrong.
There was a pregnant pause in the mayor’s office Tuesday
morning when asked about the potential fallout of not sticking to the schedule
of this much-anticipated project.
Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden filled the silence saying if
Rainbow doesn’t deliver according to the schedule, the project will be delayed
past the sale of the athletes’ village units — which could stretch until
“There aren’t enough people out there to put all of this
product on the market at the same time,” she said. “We know we have to deliver
the athletes’ village and we know that once the Olympics are done all of that
product (will) come on the market. We can’t have the market non-existent
because Rainbow’s come on late and filled the marketplace and supplied all the
There will be 250 housing units for sale in the athletes’
village after the 2010 Games.
The municipality established an independent organization called
the Whistler 2020 Development Corporation to develop the $130 million athletes’
village/legacy neighbourhood in the Lower Cheakamus. The municipality is the
sole shareholder of the corporation.
The mayor said there is a “very aggressive” business model for
the absorption of the homes post-2010.
The development corporation expects to recover more than $80
million — and essentially break even — through the sale of the
housing units. Ensuring there are buyers for those units is a critical piece of
the business plan.
It states: “One of the biggest financial risks of the project
appears to be the sale of up to 251 residential units over a (two) year period,
in a market that has historically incorporated 40 resident units per year. The
annual uptake of 40 units has been based on a limited supply, and does not
indicate that this is the maximum uptake capacity.”
In order to mitigate this risk, the plan suggests there could
be presales of the units to potential project partners before the Olympics.
“There’s a window in there between 2009-2012, arguably 2013
more realistically, before all the units in the athletes’ village are
absorbed,” said Melamed.
And that’s why it’s critical to have Rainbow stick to its
schedule and deliver before the Olympics.
Rainbow does not have final zoning approval. That is expected
to come in the spring if the developer delivers on all outstanding conditions
The business deal is expected to come before the WHA board next
If both projects come to fruition, Rainbow and the athletes’ village will produce almost 500 units of employee housing from 2007 until 2012.