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Temporary housing project a go

Chamber will confirm Friday which supplier will be stacking modular homes on tennis resort

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Two hundred and ten extra beds will likely be coming to Whistler by November this year and staying until 2010, as plans to build a neighbourhood of temporary modular homes are materializing.

Each bed will cost approximately $650 a month to rent, though costs could come down. Each unit will have access to a kitchen, bathroom, and laundry facility.

“At this point, we actually see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Louise Lundy, president of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce.

“This things is actually quite feasible, and we think we can actually make it work.”

Details of the project — renamed the Phoenix Housing Project — are still being ironed out, but the chamber is closing discussions with two suppliers and plans to make the final cut Friday. One supplier is from B.C., the other from the U.S.

The modular homes will go on the Holborn property, the location of the Whistler Racquet Club and Wildwood Bistro and Bar at the end of Northlands Boulevard, across from Marketplace Square. The Holborn property is zoned for 2,000 square metres of employee housing, and both suppliers can fit about 210 beds in that space.

According to Lundy, each housing unit will be full furnished with four beds, one bathroom, one kitchen and a common area with a TV and dining room table. No more than two people will share a bedroom.

“If anyone has ever seen what typical employee housing is offered in Whistler-Blackcomb, that is a good example,” said Lundy.

“They won’t be huge, but they’ll be clean, new, fully outfitted, close to the village and, most importantly, affordable.”

The units will be converted containers, previously destined for the landfill. The containers are easy to stack and can handle heavy snow loads with their strong framing, said Lundy. Units will likely be stacked to two-stories, although a third storey is being considered.

Lease agreements will likely span 18 months, from Nov. 1 2008 to April 30, 2010.

Also, the cost to rent a bed per month has not been finalized.

“We know for sure that the absolute maximum that an employer is going to have to pay per bed is $650, and we are doing a whole bunch of things right now to try and bring that cost down further,” said Lundy.

“For instance, there may be opportunities where companies can get waived through sponsorship, or we may have laundry facilities that are coin operated, or other sponsors may decided that they want to attach their names to this great community project.”

Part of that $650 will go towards a contingency fund for the project, although Lundy said employers may be refunded in the spring of 2010 if there is money left at the end of the project.

Details on how employers can sign up for the housing will likely become available in the next few weeks, and within the next two months the chamber wants to sign leases and collect deposit checks.

The project will likely be over subscribed, since a survey conducted by the chamber in April had 48 businesses replying, with a call for 385 to 400 beds.

Lundy stressed, however, that the selection process will be made fair between big businesses looking for 50 beds and small businesses looking for two.

“We haven’t worked out the details exactly how it will work but kind of a round robin process of selection or something like that, to make sure we get as many of the small businesses in there as well, she said.

The chamber is asking for three-months deposit on each bed, or approximately $1,950.

She added that legal issues are still being worked out, since the chamber will not be the one signing leases with Holborn.

“There is going to be a legal entity of some kind that is created, probably a corporation or society, and each of the businesses will become part of that corporation,” she said.

To further see the Phoenix project through, the chamber will be making a presentation to council Monday, May 5 with more details on the development, such as what each unit will look like.

The chamber will also be asking council for staff time and to have certain fees waived.

“In order for us to hit the ground Nov. 1 st with the keys being handed over we are going to require some staff time, and we are going to need to have some fees waived. So we are going to be asking for council for support on that on Monday night,” said Lundy.

“Even though it is temporary there is a lot of work that has to be done, such as site servicing, full servicing in terms of sewer and power, and so we will require some staff time to help expedite the project.

“We will also be asking for some fees to be waived because some of the fees — permitting fees and so on — could actually make the project not feasible. Some of those costs are very expensive.”

When asked, Mayor Ken Melamed said he could not yet speak to that possibility. He added, however, that council is excited by the latest details on the project.

“Let’s not count our chickens before they are hatched, but the early indication is there has been a positive uptake and I am excited, and I think council is tremendously excited, to see the positive work that is being done to date,” said Melamed.

“We have to thank the chamber, the RMOW and the Holborn group who have been contributing to this initiative.”

The Phoenix project has come a long way since the concept was first presented to council late in February as a solution to Whistler’s housing crunch over the next two years. At that time, the project lacked a supplier, secure funding, a business plan and was still looking for a plot of land.

“We’ve made it thought the first couple of phases of this project, we have land, we have a supplier, we know the price, and built into that $650 is a really strong contingency, so we feel really confident with that,” said Lundy.

“Now we actually have to get into the gravel and say, ‘How does this actually work, who is actually going to get the beds, who gets to sign up for them?’ Our goal is that it’s big and small employers together and that it is fair.”

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