The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) unveiled preliminary plans for the next phase of housing development in Cheakamus Crossing this week, with a target of adding at least 550 rental units to the neighbourhood.
There was a strong turnout at the open house, held at the Westin Resort on Monday, Oct. 1, to learn more about the master-planning process for the municipally owned lands in Cheakamus Crossing.
Outgoing Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said it represents the most significant housing initiative in her time as mayor. "This is an important milestone in our progress towards the ongoing work to grow workforce housing inventory in our community," she noted.
Since July, Vancouver-based development management firm MGC Projects has been working with the RMOW to finalize the master plan and business plan for the development, which is expected for presentation to council in either November or December. Based on its preliminary work, MGC is recommending the addition of 550 resident-restricted rental apartment homes—although the lands could accommodate up to 750 homes, in a mixture of apartments and townhouses.
"We see it being critically important for Whistler ... that there's a portfolio of long-term, secured, stable rental inventory that the community needs. We think the number should be about 550," explained MGC founder Matthew Carter.
Although the emphasis is on restricted rental housing, Carter said that the incremental approach to the development would allow for some flexibility. Ultimately, the decision will be left to council.
"We haven't specifically got different tenures of housing in this master plan but we've got the optionality that certain approaches on certain parcels could be market housing, they could be resident-restricted ownership," he said. "As far as the work we've been doing with the advisory group and the team at the municipality, we've discussed everything, including the possibility of some market housing."
Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) GM Marla Zucht welcomed the development, saying that the addition of affordable housing inventory should alleviate some of the chokepoints on the hundreds-long WHA waitlist. "Bringing on new product will help people move out of market housing into this new product, which will open up market rental units, and people will shift within the (restricted) inventory as well based on their household needs. We see that a lot within our (WHA) inventory as it is: once they get into the inventory, they do tend to stay, but they might move from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom as the household grows," she explained.
Attendee and Bayshores resident Todd Hellinga believes the RMOW should make restricted ownership housing more of a priority. "When you have people committed to town for the long term, who just need a stable, secure, affordable place to live, we should be focusing on that, and I think that will free up rentals—especially in conjunction with building the other rental projects (already in the works)," he said.
The development has been divided into two areas, the nine-hectare Upper Lands and the six-hectare Lower Lands. The Upper Lands could accommodate approximately 250 homes, including two interconnected, three- or four-storey apartment buildings and a number of townhouses. Parcels A and C, near the intersection of Cloudburst Drive and Mount Fee Road, are considered priorities for development in the Upper Lands given their proximity to existing municipal services and their relatively flat land. "One of the things that (architectural consultant) IBI's work is telling us is that this represents probably one of the logical places for development to begin, in terms of the catalyst project for the development of Phase 2 Cheakamus Crossing," Carter said.
The Lower Lands, bounded by Bayly Park, Jane Lakes Road and the Cheakamus River, could accommodate approximately 500 apartment units on Parcels F and G, and between 40 to 50 townhouse units on Parcel H. Portions of the land have already been cleared and the RMOW said infrastructural services could be extended from the existing neighbourhood down Jane Lakes Road.
The spring of 2021 is being targeted for the earliest move-in date, Carter said, an ambitious timeline given the scope of the work that remains. It's unclear at this early stage how the development will be financed, but Carter said MGC's business planning will consider all options. "Having a sustainable source of funding is absolutely critical to get through a project of this scale and to do so safely and within the (RMOW's) risk tolerances," he added. "We're investigating and exploring options for debt financing, for various forms of government funding—BC Housing perhaps, the federal government perhaps—and the prospect of trying to use the development of other lands as a way of helping fund resident-restricted housing."
MGC will factor in the community's feedback before returning to council later this year. A common concern among those in attendance on Monday was the potential traffic impacts on Whistler's already-congested, southern-most neighbourhood.
"It is unfortunate that by far and away the bulk of our land bank is south of the village, but we're so fortunate to have a land bank," said Wilhelm-Morden. "There are other ways that we will be able to mitigate that aspect through better transit, more frequent transit, and transit cheat lanes."
Carter added that IBI is envisioning Cheakamus Crossing as "a transit-oriented neighbourhood" and that an important part of the planning to come will be to ensure that "a well-functioning new bus loop" is integrated into the Lower Lands.
To view the full plans and give feedback on the Phase 2 development of Cheakamus Crossing, visit whistler.ca/housing.