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Study to evaluate employee housing sites in Whistler

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Housing authority taking more proactive role in finding housing solutions

The Whistler Housing Authority is leading the charge to find suitable employee housing sites throughout Whistler.

In just over a week the WHA will put out a call for consultants to develop a report highlighting appropriate employee housing sites and putting an end to long-time speculation about where resident restricted housing should go.

"(The report will give) council and the community that core information," said Councillor Kristi Wells, who is also the chair of the Whistler Housing Authority.

"There’s very little point for us to go after a site that isn’t ever going to be for sale, is leased land and is on a flood plain. And sometimes, as much as that information might be obvious, it isn’t."

Some names that have long been bandied about town as potential sites for employee housing are privately held lands, like the Boot Pub, the Chek North site between Millar’s Pond and Spring Creek, and the Sabre Rentals area at Mons Road. Public or Crown land sites are also on the list, among them the Capilano Highways site, the Public Works Yard and the day skier parking lots 1 to 4.

Developer Tim Regan owns the land at Chek North and has long identified that site as a good place for employee housing. He said a report highlighting the pros and cons of various sites around town could help the municipality when it comes to developing employee housing.

"Most of the decisions are self-evident if you have all the information, so if this helps with the decision-making process then I think it’s a smart idea," said Regan, who owns Vision Pacific.

In addition to the list of sites provided by the WHA Wells said she hopes the consultants will take an entrepreneurial approach and find some other options for housing.

The report will be a comparative analysis of the sites using different criteria. It will look at size, bed unit capacity and suitability for long term, seasonal, ownership or rental units.

Each site will also be examined for its proximity to neighbourhoods, the bus route, access and servicing, grades, and environmental values.

It will also factor in the costs of each site, from the cost to acquiring the land to the expense for accessing and servicing the site.

"We’re looking for the basics in those answers," said Wells, adding that the board is not looking for things like an in-depth environmental impact study for each site.

"We’re not expecting the report to come with any major recommendations but we’re also expecting it to be inherent in the comparative data what those recommendations are."

The report should be completed in four to six months.

Wells said it is coming at a critical time in light of the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, which should engage the community in discussions about Whistler’s future in the coming months. The CSP will feature five scenarios of what Whistler will look like in 2020 if certain elements are changed. The community will be asked to pick a preferred scenario.

"I’m personally hoping that with all the information that we have, the community engagement (in the CSP)... there’s going to be two or three sites that (become) really clear," said Wells.

"So I’m hoping that (the report) will actually streamline the process. It will give people a greater sense of clarity and confidence in the decisions and areas we go and it will create its own type of roadmap for where we should make priorities."

During the CSP process the community will also make decisions about the location of the 300-acre parcel of land promised to Whistler by the province as part of the Olympic legacies.

The Callaghan Valley, south of Whistler, is one of the prime locations for that 300-acre land bank.

"Obviously the infrastructure costs of developing the Callaghan is going to be... it’s a big project, so any infill that enhances existing communities is going to be a definite benefit," said Regan.

Council is paying for the study with $25,000 but the WHA will spearhead the process. This role is part of the new direction of the WHA as the lead agency for facilitating the provision of employee housing in the resort.

"It’s a little bit aggressive but that’s the role we’d like to take," said Wells.

This new role was one of the key elements of the WHA Business Plan 2003-2007 that was presented to council last week.

WHA General Manager Tim Wake said the organization is set to take on a more proactive role, like developing this report, in its position as the lead employee housing organization.

He said: "I think our board is going to be pushing us to lead with the solutions to all the housing challenges instead of merely responding to solutions that are being brought forward."

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