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Results of GFA exclusion monitoring discussed at COW

Revised terms, new name in the works for illegal space task force

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A report to Whistler council last month on the results of monitoring gross floor area (GFA) exclusions was so dense that Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden asked that it be referred to a future Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting, which would allow mayor, council and staff more time to discuss it.

"I thought because there was so much information in this report that it would be a good idea to spend a bit of time reviewing some of the more interesting details," Wilhelm-Morden said at the July 12 COW meeting.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) first adopted its "illegal spaces bylaw" in 2012 as a means of legitimizing crawlspaces and other illegal spaces in the municipality.

The bylaw allowed the exclusion of basement floor areas and exterior walls that are thicker than six inches from the calculation of GFA for detached and duplex dwellings.

The exclusions were intended to address issues around the use of crawl spaces in some homes that did not conform to zoning regulations.

At the time, council directed staff to monitor the program in key areas.

Overall, the results of the monitoring were positive.

"There has been a high uptake by residents and the building community on the program, with 182 building permits for excluded floor area issued over the last four years, which accounted for 47 per cent of all single-family detached and duplex dwelling building permit applications," the mayor said.

"Of these, 81 were permits to legalize existing floor area, which was one of the original goals of the program."

Moving forward, the monitoring program will be expanded to include a comprehensive review of neighbourhood character and development trends — things like housing construction and architecture, home sale and migration trends, and lot grading and topographical characteristics.

"We would look to hire a consultant to help us with that," said director of planning Mike Kirkegaard. "To try and look at this in the way we need to do, we just don't have the resources and the staff availability to do this."

The terms of reference for the Illegal Space Task Force will also be extended — along with more task-force members and a new name.

The new terms will be presented at a future council meeting.

"I think this was absolutely the right thing to do as far as the work of the illegal space task force, because enforcement simply wasn't working," Wilhelm-Morden said.

The mayor did have concerns about how some homeowners were making use of the wording of the bylaw, essentially allowing themselves to build bigger homes than their neighbours.

"I received an email from a fellow in Whistler Cay Heights and he said that's exactly what happened to him with his neighbour... he's now building a 5,000-square-foot house on a small lot, and the maximum height will exceed the heights of the other homes at the same grade.

"It's now being used as a virtual weapon to muscle in inordinately large new homes on small lots, and that was never the intention."

The revised terms of the Illegal Space Task Force, as well as the neighbourhood monitoring efforts, will aim to address those concerns.

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