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Zen and the art of mixed messages

An inquiry into values

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John Zen thought he was doing something for the community last year when he asked the Whistler Housing Authority what type of employee housing it needed and came up with a development proposal for more than 800 rental units. But as his proposal was being massaged and working its way through municipal hall the goal posts moved. The municipality decided it didn’t want any development on his land and that it may have enough housing already. Now part of his property is being down-zoned to ensure he doesn’t build on it.

On Monday night this week Tim Regan was also "Zenned."

For the past year Regan has been working on a three-part development project that involved rezoning for trophy homes on lands in Whistler Cay and White Gold and approximately 470 rental employee bed units on the Cheakamus North site, between Millar’s Pond and Spring Creek.

Regan’s Whistler Three Comprehensive Development Strategy was before council Monday to determine if there was enough support to take the project to the public for input. There wasn’t.

Despite the fact Regan, like Zen, had shaped his project from the beginning with the encouragement and input of the Whistler Housing Authority, municipal staff and council, when it came time to go public council turned thumbs down. In fact, some questioned whether Whistler even needs the additional employee housing proposed.

"There are consequences to building more employee housing," Mayor Hugh O’Reilly said.

There is an assumption that employee housing is needed by people in the service industry, O’Reilly added, but there are more and more businesses coming to town which are not tourism related and their employees are helping drive the demand for employee housing. "I never thought of us as delivering all the employee housing," O’Reilly said.

A municipal staff report on the Whistler Three project also questioned the need for more employee housing. Quoting from the Whistler Housing Authority’s Overview 2000, the report states: "Of the 1,100 additional employee beds that will be required to meet (the goal of housing 80 per cent of Whistler’s workforce within municipal boundaries at buildout, with one in three of those individuals living in resident restricted homes), 900 are already underway."

And two and a half months ago, in a letter to Zen regarding his proposal, O’Reilly wrote: "… although we appreciate your interest in developing employee housing, we have other initiatives underway that will provide a resolution of the employee housing situation currently facing the community."

The idea that Whistler’s employee housing situation is well in hand is not shared by Rick Staehli, general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority.

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