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Whistler is ‘back in business' after COVID, mayor says

Housing a hot topic at Chamber’s ‘State of the RMOW’ luncheon
From left to right: Whistler Chamber chair Chris Vick, RMOW CAO Virginia Cullen, Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton and Whistler Chamber executive director Louise Walker.

With rising inflation, businesses still recuperating from COVID-19, an incredibly tight labour market creating staffing challenges, and growing permitting fees, the relationship between policymakers at the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and the resort’s business community is consequential.

On Tuesday, Feb. 28, Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton gave an address on the current state of the municipality at the first in-person Whistler Chamber of Commerce (WCC) power luncheon since the pandemic cancelled the event.

According to Crompton, the municipality is “back in business” and “realigning” as the community continues to bounce back from the economic struggles of the pandemic while carrying lessons learned into the future.

“The state of the municipality is back in business. I was talking with [WCC board chair] Chris [Vick] about how busy it is, and I want to say that we’re realigning, that this is an opportunity right now to learn from what we experienced, this massive inflection point in our history through COVID-19,” Crompton said in a presentation.

Crompton’s address focused on the progress of the top four priorities of council: smart tourism, climate action, community engagement and housing. The mayor explained that of the four, housing is the No. 1 priority of the community and the RMOW.

“We intend to expedite the delivery of and long-term planning for employee housing. These two things need to move together,” Crompton said. “I don’t think we can stop and plan, I think we need to build and plan, and they need to move in parallel.”

Crompton highlighted the progress on Cheakamus Crossing Phase 2 as an example of work achieved on the housing front over the last four years, and made an ambitious commitment to complete it by the end of the term in 2026.

Vick noted a recent survey of Chamber members found that 95 per cent of respondents believe affordable housing is the No. 1 business-related issue in the community, and 99 per cent of respondents favoured changing zoning bylaws to allow for increased density in areas currently reserved for low-density housing.

According to RMOW chief administrative officer Ginny Cullen, the municipality will consider changes to density zoning in the upcoming Long-Term Housing Strategy and Housing Action Plan, which will come before Whistler’s mayor and council toward the beginning of April.

“We'll be looking at ways to reduce barriers to infill housing, for one, and also looking at specifications in places and looking at developing neighbourhood plans so that if there are increases in densification, it's not a surprise to those living in those neighbourhoods,” Cullen said.

In response to a question on increasing public-private partnerships for employee housing, the mayor said that the business community needs to play a significant role in helping solve the housing crisis.

“This is not something that the local government can solve on our own,” Crompton said. “It will take the business community building on land that they own, and it'll take using buildings that are currently constructed in different ways. It'll take a different way of thinking. If there was a silver bullet to this and we could just solve it, I think someone would have done that.”

Both RMOW representatives agreed that more engagement with local businesses must occur. Cullen noted that significant engagement fell by the wayside as the municipality poured staff time and resources into supporting the 2030 Olympic bid.

“I will say that, through COVID, it was easier to be connected to the business community,” Cullen said.

“We were more closely connected because we were in crisis mode. We're now out of that. The Olympic bid did take a lot of our time and attention last year, and now we are back with more time and attention to be able to be really locally focused in the community.”