By Alison Taylor
A visibly frustrated council expressed their concerns about delays over the Rainbow project as developers pushed for its final approval this week.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that there’s real concern in the community for this project,” said Councillor Tim Wake, former general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority.
Project manager Bill Hayes pushed council to consider adopting the bylaws at their first meeting in June. That will allow work to begin again on the site in July with a goal to have units ready for occupancy by March 2008 — three months behind the last deadline of December 2007.
“The key thing from our point of view is to get to fourth reading,” appealed Hayes to council.
When asked by Wake who needs to come to the table to make that happen, Hayes was clear.
“I think it’s something you need to do,” he said. “We’re ready to go.”
A visibly agitated Wake took issue with the comments, saying council has been asking its director of planning on the status of the bylaws these past six months, pushing the project from their end.
Despite obvious will on both sides to move Rainbow, the project has proved more complex than originally anticipated.
Though Hayes insisted all the conditions have now been met for final approval, the municipality’s general manager of community life, Bob MacPherson, told council they are not yet 100 per cent complete.
Mayor Ken Melamed reiterated after the meeting that council cannot move the project to fourth reading until all the work is done.
“Yes, there’s a rush,” he admitted. “(But) we can’t be approving flawed projects. It’s our job to make sure that if the projects are approved they can be built and they won’t put us at risk in the future.”
Being two years late in getting the approvals in place, Wake asked Hayes how council could be confident Rainbow could meet its new timelines to have the first homes ready in less than one year’s time.
Hayes conceded it was a fair question.
Rainbow has two builders already lined up to build the project. One of those builders, Tim Regan of Vision Pacific, said this week that they’re ready to work.
“The hardest part of this process is getting the zoning and the subdivision done,” he said. “The time to start this is now.”
Though both sides were hesitant to place blame at Monday’s council meeting, the delay may be leaving some on council with cold feet.
“My confidence level is simply not that high,” said Councillor Eckhard Zeidler.
His comments were cut short however after staff reminded council not to debate the merits or pitfalls of the project as it waits for the final adoption of the bylaws.
The project was hailed as a short-term solution to Whistler’s affordable housing woes when first brought forward by the previous council. It was to deliver single family homes, duplexes, fourplexes, apartment-style units and seniors housing to meet a growing need in the community between 2005 and the 2010 Games.
Since then the waitlist for employee housing has grown to more than 600 applicants, due in no small part to interest from the Rainbow development.
But it has been a complex project, designed on difficult terrain.
Despite the challenges, Councillor Ralph Forsyth said there is still political will to see it through to completion.
“There’s enormous political will and a great appetite to see it done.
“I gave my word to the constituents,” said Forsyth, who campaigned during the election, like several of his colleagues, to deliver Rainbow as soon as possible.
“I know I feel a little bit betrayed by the process.”
Just as he gave his word to his constituents during the election campaign that he would move the project along, he asked for Hayes to give his word on Monday.
“I have a reputation, too, in this community,” said Hayes. “It means a lot to me to make it happen.”
He gave an example of the delays. Rainbow, he said, was asked only recently to lower the grade on its main road by 1.5 metres to help facilitate access to the lands beyond the project which will be developed in the near future by First Nations.
That change forced a complete revamp of all the designs and set back the process two to three weeks.
“That’s an example of where it goes both ways,” said Hayes.
It is still not clear how much the homes will sell for.
Melamed said it would be in the range of half a million dollars for a single family home.