As the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) works towards providing more housing, a difference in opinions as to the best way forward has led to the resignation of the entire Whistler 2020 Development Corp. (WDC) board.
The WDC was responsible for building the Athletes' Village ahead of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, which is now Whistler's Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood.
In a letter to mayor and council, WDC chair Eric Martin noted that the RMOW has all but assumed total control of the planning, servicing and developing of Cheakamus Crossing Phase 2—responsibilities previously assigned to WDC.
"Basically, I think the municipality is going in a different direction than we recommended, which is obviously totally within their purview," Martin said in a follow-up phone call.
"I think a lot has changed, and I think this group has been in place for a long time. I think it's been a very effective model, it's worked well, but it's not the only model—there are obviously other ways of doing things.
"I think the municipality seems to want to have staff take more of a role and responsibility, and that's fine."
The WDC board—made up of volunteers Martin, Jim Moodie, Jim Godfrey and Steve Bayly— contained a wealth of development experience, and a proven track record of delivering housing.
(Martin was VP of Bosa Developments; Moodie was involved in the original planning of Whistler and was a driving force behind the Audain Museum; Bayly is a life-long developer here and a founding member of the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA); and Godfrey was Chief Administrative Officer for the RMOW and also a founder of the WHA.)
"We've had 14 years—good years," Moodie said.
"I feel pretty proud of what we accomplished, and while I may not understand exactly the direction that the muni is going now, I wish them the best, and these things don't last forever, so there we are."
Bayly was more pointed in his comments.
"It's such a shame that we're in a crisis ... (and) the administration is wishing to grab control, or to be totally in control of housing," he said.
"They're not well-suited for this. They don't have the expertise in development or real estate finance, and I don't think they'll get anywhere to execute on the needed supply in a fiscally responsibly manner."
Ideally, the WDC would be tapped to deliver on its proven model, Bayly said.
"We would have developed a market lot subdivision using the market bed units we extinguished for the (Whistler Housing Authority) project lands we gave them, (and) by now we would have repaid the remaining taxpayer debt, provided funds to service the lower Cheakamus, and with a bit of luck, some seed money for those projects, and it would be underway," he said.
"But we were smothered."
Asked to comment on the resignation, RMOW Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey declined to speculate.
"We have worked closely with the WDC in the past ... it's really been an invaluable, literally free service, to the municipality, so I think we really owe them so much in terms of gratitude and thanks for the contributions that they've made to the building of Cheakamus Phase 1," Furey said.
"And now we're moving into Phase 2, and the lower Cheakamus."
CHEAKAMUS CROSSING, PHASE 2
At the June 19 council meeting, Toni Metcalf, manager of economic development, provided an update on Cheakamus Crossing Phase 2.
"This is a completely new neighbourhood, it's untouched lands, and I think we really had to start at the beginning to ensure that we had some clear goals and objectives on what we were setting up to do," Metcalf said in a media briefing prior to the meeting.
The RMOW has spent the past few months developing draft goals and objectives and identifying different sites in Cheakamus for their development potential.
Of 15 potential sites, four have been singled out as being most suitable for development—one in the "Phase 2 Lands" to the south of the existing neighbourhood, and another three in the "Lower Lands" to the north, along the Cheakamus River.
Between the four sites, the RMOW sees the potential for up to 559 homes (depending on housing type and density, which is yet to be determined).
The RMOW has enlisted the services of developer Matthew Carter (at Martin's endorsement) as a professional development project manager for the project.
Carter will be tasked with delivering a business plan—a Request for Proposals has already been issued for a detailed development program, and submissions are currently under review.
The development program will include things like the layout of roads and trails, new green spaces and plans for each parcel.
"Obviously part of the work that the successful proponent will do is mapping all of this out in quite some detail with some details around the land massing, what the scale of the buildings will be, specifically the mix of the units that will actually be on those sites, etc.," Metcalf said.
"So this is really where we start to get the specifics around what types of units, the number of units, and how it will all be laid out on those pieces of land."
In the meantime, engineering consultants will be tasked with laying out where water, sewer and servicing work will be done.
"That will also provide a lot of insight to costings, which enables us to then do the financial planning, understanding what is the total cost of developing these," Metcalf said.
It's too early to pinpoint an exact cost, she added— but it won't be cheap.
The RMOW is looking at all potential cash sources, including from government grants, legacy land market sales, WHA cash from existing rentals, housing reserves (which are all but depleted at this point), MRDT and taxpayer funds.
"It is anticipated that taxpayer funds would not be used in this scenario, but we're just really showing everything at this point in time," Metcalf said.
There will be ample opportunity for community input along the way as well, she added.
The RMOW hopes to be issuing building permits through 2019 into 2020, and eyeing occupancy sometime in 2021.
"There's a lot of work that has to go into it before you can get into a construction phase, and I think we're progressing really, really well with the deliverables that have been shown so far," Metcalf said.
In terms of governance, Carter will serve as project manager and report to RMOW senior management, while an advisory board will be established to provide expert guidance along the way.
For simplicity's sake, the RMOW is referring to the new establishment, for now, as "WDC2," though it will not be an independent corporation at arms length from the RMOW.
WDC, THE SEQUEL
At the June 19 meeting, Councillor Jack Crompton wondered how WDC2 will differ from the original.
"I think they will be quite different. For one thing, all that you're going through tonight, you would have never gone through with the old WDC, because we did it all for you," Martin said.
"We would have probably one or two reports a year in a public forum like this, but all the work was done behind the scenes with a mandate, with a business plan and so on, so in that way I see council being much more hands-on, and the staff being much, much more involved."
But different times call for different measures, Furey said after the meeting.
The original WDC was tasked with, and delivered, a specific neighbourhood for the Olympics on a tight timeline backed by seed money from different levels of government, though the majority of funds for development came from the sales of the homes and market lands at Cheakamus.
"Now, this is a community planning exercise we're engaging in, and that's what the planning department does, is look at what are our needs," Furey said.
"So there's different models that are dictated by different times, and these gentleman (the WDC board) are wonderful ... (and) there will be external expertise on the governance model that we're preparing."
Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden offered similar thoughts.
"We're not developers. We don't pretend to be developers," she said. "What we're doing right now is a community planning exercise, and when the appropriate groundwork is laid, it will be over to a development company to develop."
And through the entire process, the RMOW has to keep an eye on the cyclical nature of Whistler's economy, lest it bring on too much supply at once, as happened in 2010 and 2011 with Rainbow and Cheakamus.
"We're very cognizant of keeping our eye on the ball as far as the cyclical nature of the economy, and our role in bringing on affordable housing," the mayor said.
"Now that said, we've got to hit the sweet spot, because we know that there's a challenge with housing, and that's what we're addressing. We just have to be cautious."
But both Crompton and Coun. Jen Ford said they wanted to ensure the expertise of the original WDC, and its proven model, doesn't fall by the wayside.
"I believe the next phase of Cheakamus Crossing is the single most important action Whistler can take. It is a huge housing project and if we're going to deliver, I'm convinced we need the kind of experience, commitment and expertise we enjoyed during the first phase," Crompton said.
"The WDC and the WHA are by far the most effective tools we have to address our housing crisis. We understand the WDC model well and we know it works. I feel strongly we should keep the model as intact as possible. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Coun. Steve Anderson praised the new approach.
"I really like the aspect that we can get the infrastructure in the ground and we can do parcels as we see fit," he said. "I'm always conscious and wary of economic downturns, and if that happens, we can at least turn it off for a bit, rather than get stuck with too much, so I think the way you've laid it out is very well thought out."
The complete Cheakamus Crossing Phase 2 master planning document can be found in the June 19 council package starting on page 101: www.whistler.ca.
PRIVATE DEVELOPER PROPOSALS
Also at the meeting, council received a report outlining nine proposals for employee housing from private developers that meet council's guidelines (endorsed on December 5, 2017).
Included in the proposals are previously discussed projects at 2077 Garibaldi Way in Nordic (74 apartments, 222 bed units) and 7104 Nancy Greene Drive in White Gold (65 apartments, 184 units).
The seven other applications are varied, proposing everything from a two-townhome, four-unit project in Alpine to a 496-apartment/townhome, 1004 beds development at 1525 Highway 99 (near Spring Creek and Function Junction on the Zen lands).
Staff will complete a preliminary review of all the applications using council's guidelines and provide comments to the applicants, who will have an opportunity to address outstanding issues and revise their applications.
An evaluation of each proposal will be presented to council in September with recommendations on which projects to support.
Any applications that receive council's support will then follow the standard rezoning process.
Staff also recommend a public information meeting be held for any proposals that council supports before a zoning amendment bylaw is brought forward. Public hearings would also be part of the process.
The full list of proposals can be found in the June 19 council package starting on page 212.