Whistler’s mayor dismissed the most recent reasons given by Rainbow’s project manager on why construction on the employee housing development has stalled again.
Rainbow’s Bill Hayes said this week construction on the site stopped roughly two weeks ago. One of the main reasons, he said, surrounds access to the lands above Rainbow slated for First Nations development. That is holding up approval of their subdivision plan.
“This is all to do with access up into the First Nations property and how that affects our development and trying to get that sorted out with the municipality,” Hayes said this week. “Until we get that sorted out and know where we’re going, we decided we weren’t going to do any more construction.
“We could start construction tomorrow as far as the engineering drawings are concerned because we have enough approved. But I want to get this thing sorted out at the top of the hill because that affects the whole layout of the project.”
But that reason, said Mayor Ken Melamed, is simply a “red herring.”
“The fact is the municipality’s and Rainbow’s responsibility is only to provide access to the lands beyond,” he said.
“There’s lots of work that they could be doing at this point in time and the issue of the First Nations is a complete red herring.”
The Rainbow project, north of Alpine Meadows, is expected to deliver much-need resident-restricted housing prior to the 2010 Olympics.
Lil’wat and Squamish First Nations were given the site above Rainbow as part of a 300-acre land deal with the province, negotiated as part of the 2010 Games.
It’s a 32-acre site and council transferred 454 bed units (or enough bed units to build 75 single family homes) to the site as part of the land deal, which was approved by council in May.
The two First Nations were eager to get to work on the site as soon as possible.
“Unfortunately we ran into some issues that we had to deal with internally and that just kind of slowed the process down,” said Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob, who would not elaborate any further on those issues.
“We’re moving along now and hopefully within the next two or three weeks or so we’ll have a clearer idea of what’s going to happen.”
Lead Lil’wat Nation negotiator Lyle Leo added that they are still working on the details of how to maximize their economic opportunities in Whistler.
“We are somewhat revisiting the relationship between the two First Nations right now to make sure we dot all the i’s and (cross) the t’s on the joint holdings in Whistler and how we are going to jointly develop the lands on behalf of the interest of our communities,” said Leo.
It is not clear when the development application for the lands will be submitted to the municipality but of the eight Whistler sites transferred to the First Nations in May, that site has been identified as the one with the most economic opportunity, and therefore, the one most likely to be developed first.
Hayes said without plans for that site, it’s difficult to get to work on his site. A crucial parcel of land is affected by the First Nations access.
“We have to satisfy the municipality with respect to the land above and if I don’t know what that is, I can’t do it,” he said.
That prompted expressions of disappointment and concern from Melamed about Rainbow’s delay.
“We aided this approval process in ways that are extraordinary,” said the mayor.
“We broke the rules to try and speed up the process and we’re very disappointed that after all the effort we put in to accelerating the approval process, work is not going ahead at pace.”
He compared Rainbow’s progress to the Cressey project called Fitzsimmons Walk, at the old Shoestring site, which is moving ahead with significant site clearing despite not having fourth reading, or final approval from council.
But Hayes again reiterated this week that work is planned for the fall at Rainbow. He wants to start work on the new reservoir site and system that will bring water to the site, do some more road grading and get the disclosure statements out so they can begin presales to the hundreds of Whistler employees on the waitlist for Rainbow’s housing.
At a meeting just this week, all of the joint venture partners in the Rainbow deal committed to working together and moving the project forward.
The much anticipated employee housing project was given final approval by council in early June. Since then, the site has not changed significantly.
The first phase of housing is supposed to be delivered by fall 2008.