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Righting a wrong in homebuilding

New Illegal Space committee to tackle widespread problem



Down a short flight of stairs in a decadent home nestled on the side of a mountain is one of the best places in Whistler to take in a movie.

Rich fir beams frame in the room complete with a massive flat screen TV, a state of the art sound system, a comfy leather couch.

You'd never know that you were relaxing in some "illegal space" — space that was never on any official drawing plans of the house and was likely walled in out of sight when the inspector came by to sign off on the home. Now it's simply part of the house, as much a part of it as the kitchen or the bathrooms.

Media rooms, wine cellars, work out rooms and extra bedrooms are just a part of the problem; illegal space — developed area in the home that's not part of the official square footage — can be just as easily found in closets and rooflines and crawl spaces in Whistler.

It's everywhere — as common to houses in Whistler as backyard pools are to homes in Texas.

It's in the new homes in places like Kadenwood to the older established neighbourhoods like Alpine and everywhere else in between.

And it's a problem. One that Whistler has turned a blind eye to over the years, creating an underground industry of work officially off the books.

Now it's a problem that council is tackling head on — complete with a two and a half month deadline to get the building bylaws amended for single-family homes.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden explained at last week's council meeting why she has pushed to put this at the top of her agenda this term.

"It's something that affects safety, potentially," she said.

"It's something that affects fair taxation levels, potentially. And it's a liability issue to us as a municipality, possibly, and to various homeowners and real estate agents and people actually involved in the building industry as well. And finally it's an insurability issue."

She assigned Councillor Duane Jackson, who developed the Stonebridge subdivision, to the new Illegal Spaces Task Force Select Committee.

Its members, who will also include four representatives of the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA), are charged with getting the solution on council's desk by March 1.

Jackson is the first to admit it's no easy task, wrestling this complex, pervasive issue, which has remained just out of reach for previous politicians. Extensive work on solutions has been done over the years, to no avail.

"The last two councils attempted to work with the CHBA to improve the current situation, but due to other competing municipal priorities and staffing changes the initiative was never completed," said Jackson. "This council has made it a priority. Also, the situation is so pervasive, it is affecting confidence in the real estate market, which is also currently challenged by many external factors. Confidence and credibility in our single family residential market is critical to supporting ownership, household values, attracting investment by residents and non-residents and maintaining our tax base."

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