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Zeidler speaks out against decision to take on seniors housing complex



Councillors Eckhard Zeidler and Ralph Forsyth are breaking ranks with Whistler council and publicly opposing its decision to take on a seniors' housing complex project.

"I don't think it's what the people of Whistler want us to be spending our time doing and I don't think it's a risk they want to see us taking on, on their behalf," Zeidler said this week.

Forsyth, who tried unsuccessfully to revisit the decision at Tuesday's special council meeting this week, made his opinion known in no uncertain terms following the meeting: "I think it's the most asinine decision that we've made."

He was speaking about a closed-door decision two weeks ago where council rejected the proposed pricing structure for Rainbow's new resident restricted seniors housing complex. The average price proposed by the Innovation Building Group for a unit in the complex was $370 per square foot. That prompted council to exercise its right to buy the lot and look at its options for building the project.

The municipality wanted to make clear this week that it does not build projects itself, but rather charges subsidiaries like the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) to do it for them.

Mayor Ken Melamed shot down Forsyth's request to re-open the decision at Tuesday's special meeting.

"We had a good discussion and there was a majority vote on council," said the mayor.

"I am not going to bring it back for debate."

Last week Councillor Chris Quinlan explained that council rejected the pricing because it would not allow other resident restricted owners to transition through the WHA inventory. For example, the WHA housing at Cheakamus Crossing sold for roughly $250 per square foot. The seniors' complex would be more than $100 per square foot more expensive.

It was a decision that caught Zeidler and Forsyth, who was not at the closed-door meeting, by surprise.

Zeidler said Whistler is just finishing up one of the largest building programs the town has ever seen. Now is not the time to take on more risk, or more capital spending, he said.

"We need to think about how to do less with less resources and less risk," he added.

That's why he's speaking out against the decision, though there are guidelines in the council governance manual not to break ranks once council makes its decisions.

"I don't know why this position was taken," he said.

"Every opportunity I get I will attempt to see this position reversed."

Forsyth too is now looking into ways to bring the decision back for debate, though he was unsuccessful in his first attempt this week.

Zeidler pointed out that the Mature Action Committee, Whistler's seniors group that is actively lobbying for housing, supported the proposal.

Zeidler said: "That's good enough for me."

The WHA is now looking at options for the site.

Next week WHA general manager Marla Zucht will be meeting with BC Housing to see if they are interested in collaborating in the seniors housing project.

-With files from Claire Piech