News » Whistler

Rainbow’s commercial component a concern

Wells calls for a new Memorandum of Understanding with developer



For the first time Tuesday council got a look at the commercial component proposed at the Rainbow development, and council members did not like what they saw.

The proposed grocery store, which is comparable in size to the Creekside Market, is "completely out of whack" for Rainbow, said Councillor Ken Melamed.

And the grocery store is just a portion of the overall commercial development slated to go at the core of the residential community.

Melamed was not alone in his concerns.

Councillors Marianne Wade and Gordon McKeever also expressed their reservations about the commercial component, which includes the 7,500 square foot grocery store, a 4,000 square foot neighbourhood restaurant/pub (roughly the size of Hoz’s), a 5,000 square foot service commercial centre including a bank, post office and laundry mat, and a 1,000 square foot café. In addition, there are plans for a gas station on site. That’s close to 20,000 square feet of commercial space, which may not be what council had in mind for the north end of town.

"I am a little worried about the size of it," said Wade, adding that her original vision was along the lines of a smaller concept much like the commercial building in Alpine Meadows with its market and bakery/restaurant.

"I worry about that in the larger context (of the whole resort)."

Local planner Brent Harley, who presented updated plans of the development to council on Tuesday night, said the Memorandum of Understanding between the developer and the municipality, signed in March this year, calls for an "appropriately sized local service commercial component."

"The intent is to create that focal point for the neighbourhood," he said.

Harley referenced a study that said the project could support 33,000 square feet of commercial.

He also reminded council that 85 per cent of this project would be employee housing, which means unlike other Whistler neighbourboods, the vast majority of these homes will be occupied year-round.

"It doesn’t happen anywhere else in Whistler," he said.

The size of the commercial component is just one of a number of outstanding issues yet to be resolved in the Rainbow project.

Harley also explained that the configuration of the single-family employee housing lots has changed slightly. Instead of clustered nodes, the lots have been separated. The change is due in part to financial arrangements made in the MOU.

Council, however, was supportive of the clustered development and Councillor Nick Davies asked if they could take another look at it.

Councillor Kristi Wells said she was "shocked" the developer was no longer planning to build a self-sufficient "green" wastewater treatment plant at the site. Instead staff is investigating the municipal sewer system to see if there is capacity for the Rainbow project in the pipes and at the sewage treatment plant.

The municipality’s general manager of engineering and public works, Brian Barnett, explained that in order to build a self-sufficient sewage treatment plant at Rainbow, Whistler would need to embark on an extensive public consultation process and approvals from the province – a process which could take up to a year.

But Wells said Whistler’s sewage system is based on the resort’s development cap and the size of the system is based on buildout of the resort. There were times in the last year where the sewage treatment plant was over its peak. If Rainbow can fit onto the system, housing more than 1,200 people, what developments will be compromised in the future she asked.

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly dismissed her concerns saying the municipality had contemplated adding 6,000 more employee housing bed units during the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan. The sewage system, he said, can cope with additional growth like that.

But for Wells the change to the sewer system, among other things, is a sign that perhaps the developer, the municipality and the Whistler Housing Authority should redo the original MOU, instead of trying to fit the current reality into an outdated document.

"The Memorandum of Understanding… was intended to be a guide," she said. "It’s pretty much expired."

The MOU anticipated the master planning and permitting process and all the rezoning would be complete by September.

Harley said they are now aiming to go through the rezoning process in October.

And yet, along with outstanding questions about sewer and the commercial space, the water for the site has still to be confirmed. Tests of water in the area are underway to gauge quantity and quality. Those should be complete by the end of the month.

"Your timeline is incredibly aggressive," said Wells. "I don’t want to rush this for the sake of rushing."

Since being made public the MOU has come under fire from members of the public, such as Port Moody resident Jeff Sanca.

Sanca highlights among other things, a section of the MOU which requires the municipality to buy the 70 single family employee housing lots at a cost of $100,000 each if the lots do not sell; a cost of up to $7 million to the municipality.

"I can see why the developer is desirous to have this fast-tracked," wrote Sanca in a letter to council. "The MOU is completely one-sided in favour of the developer by any reasonable interpretation."

Sanca did not return calls from Pique Newsmagazine this week.

Despite concerns with some aspects of the project, staff is continuing to work on the application.

Rainbow is set to deliver a number of employee housing units, designed to ease the growing demand for purchase employee housing on the Whistler Housing Authority waitlist. Employee housing choices will include single-family homes, duplexes, multi-family units and seniors housing.

The developers will also build market homes on the site.

For updates on the project go to