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Work continues on Cheakamus housing

'Ambitious' agenda eyes 1,000 new beds by 2021

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In its ongoing efforts to add to Whistler's housing supply, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is continuing with master planning for the Cheakamus Crossing area.

Through its analysis, the RMOW has decided to focus first on 6.5 hectares in what's known as the Cheakamus Crossing "Lower Lands" northeast of the existing neighbourhood, director of planning Mike Kirkegaard told council on Jan. 23.

"It's a relatively flat area that's previously disturbed, and it really carried the greatest potential with up to between 219 and 500 units — so approximately 1,000 beds in that area," Kirkegaard said. "In 2018, the completion of the master plan and finalization of that plan — including detailed concepts, site servicing, development phasing, funding considerations and also community engagement — are top priorities for our work program."

Infrastructure and design work would take place in 2019 and building construction in 2020, with an eye to having new housing online in 2021.

The lands are part of the 121-hectare "land bank" the municipality acquired as part of the 2010 Olympic Games legacy land agreement.

Two other sites — the "Upper Lands" and "Jane Lakes Road Lands" — are also being considered.

In developing the lands, the RMOW will look to include a mix of housing types and densities, including both rental and ownership, using data collected through the Mayor's Task Force on Resident Housing as a guide.

"(We're) looking at optimizing the development potential while still respecting the natural features and the natural areas of the Cheakamus River corridor," Kirkegaard said.

But with such an ambitious housing agenda, the RMOW has to pay close attention to the financial implications, said Chief Administrative Officer Mike Furey.

"We have to do our due diligence in terms of any financial considerations and risk to the municipality," he said. "So all of our developments will require detailed financial analysis to determine funding needs and sources."

With "pretty much nil" in the RMOW housing reserves and interest rates expected to continue to rise, looking at mortgages will have to be carefully considered, Furey said.

Not to mention the cyclical nature of Whistler's economy.

"The number of employees in the resort, family structures — which includes demand for homes, obviously — and also the level of vacancy and rental revenues to pay down financing are variables that we need to consider going forward," Furey said. "Overall, we want to ensure strong financial management, and that will be critical to continue to deliver sustainable housing options."

The Cheakamus plans also include mention of a "Future WB Chairlift and Parking," though Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said after the meeting that there haven't been any solid discussions with the mountain operator in regards to that.

"That's just part of Whistler Blackcomb's master plan, looking over at the south side," Wilhelm-Morden said. "So it's just something that's in contemplation at some point in the far, far future."

In addition, the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) is continuing work on three new employee-housing projects following the completion of one on Cloudburst Drive in Cheakamus late last year: 1020 Legacy Way (24 units with anticipated occupancy in early 2019), 8350 Bear Paw Trail (20 units for seniors, early 2019) and 1330 Cloudburst (40 units, winter 2020).

"In total, these new WHA housing projects will provide additional affordable accommodations for approximately 227 local residents and will increase the total number of Whistler resident housing beds to just over 6,600," said the WHA's Marla Zucht in a presentation to council.

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