Whistler’s Official Community Plan (OCP), Development history.
If you’ve inquired about real estate in Whistler or have owned real estate in Whistler for any length of time, you have more than likely heard of the term ‘bed cap’. We refer to this term with implied meaning, and reason for restricted growth with restricted inventory in our market.
This simple term has so much backstory. Read further for detailed information which will explain more.
Whistler is a world-renowned destination, known for its breathtaking nature, stunning geography that boasts best in class skiing by way of two mountains which support a world class resort community. These natural gifts have been well served and cultivated by adhering to well thought out Official Community Plans (OCP).
The OCP helps with land use regulation and community planning, defining the where, what, and how of community growth to ensure Whistler remains an incredible place to live, work and visit.
When Did Whistler Begin Planning Its Growth?
Incorporated in 1975, the first key decision made to have one single town pedestrian focused center lead to early success. A strategy was put into place to make sure Whistler has plenty of beds for not just residents but employees as well to service increased visitation.
Whistlers Growth Over the Last 4 Decades
Over the last 43 years Whistler has experienced incredible growth, becoming a major international destination. The on-mountain recreational facilities really helped establish this rise to prominence. There is a plethora of residential and visitor accommodation, commercial and light-industrial development, seasonal facilities and seasonal amenities, and of course community facilities.
A critical thread all the way through this strategy and important to managing sustained growth is ensuring dedicated employee housing.
The 2010 Winter Olympics
The Winter Olympics brought in additional infrastructure and development for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It also helped to expand two new mixed-use neighbourhoods and new industrial land.
Of course, it also helped to further shine the spotlight on Whistler as a premier international destination to either visit as a guest or to purchase real estate and enjoy as much as you can or as a permanent resident.
Real Estate Growth and Bed Capacity in Whistler
The last update to the Whistler OCP prior to 2017 was in 1993. Accommodations rose from 32,085 to 55,491 at year end 2017, that’s growth of 23,406, an impressive figure! (As per RMOW)
Commercial space rose as well, from 1.17 million to 2.56 million sq. ft. more than doubling and making room for the important support and retail services needed to keep pace with accommodation growth.
Whistler Accommodation Capacity
Whistler’s developed accommodation capacity measured in bed units includes residents, visitors and employees in Whistler. Approximately 45% of this capacity is dedicated to visitors with 26,000 bed units. A Bed Unit can be defined as, “a room within a rooming house without a bathroom and/or kitchen, rented to and actually occupied by an occupant who is not an Immediate Family Member of the Borrower.” as per Law Insider. To read more about the Accommodation Capacity click here: Whistler’s OCP Growth.
Hotels make up 7,900 beds for visitors and the innovative OCP has led to 6,430 Bed Units for employees, 12% of the available beds, critical to maintaining balance and supporting the vibrant Whistler economy.
In 2017, year end capacity was 61,561 Bed Units, this putting Whistler at 90% of its then approved buildout capacity. 40% of this remaining capacity is dedicated to employee housing, primarily in the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood.
Whistler Growth Since Olympic Downturn
Since the moderate downturn post the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, there has been record visitation to Whistler. Average annual occupancy rates grew 30% from 40-70%. Importantly, this was achieved by increased Summer and off-season visitation as Whistler continues to expand offerings beyond its’ world class Winter amenities. Whistler has reached as many as 3.3 million visits per year. Safe to say Whistler has proven more than resilient.
Expanding Whistler Population
The residential population is expanding in Whistler with 2,140 residents added from 2008 to 2017, from 9,702 to 11,840 and as of 2022 and outside of the OCP numbers, residents now make up 13,982.
Combining overnight, permanent and seasonal populations we see growth from 25,962 in 2008 to 36,306 in 2017 with peak occupancy in that time of 55,000. The 2021 census lists this population at 13,982 though this figure is impacted due to the COVID 19 pandemic and is not a perfect indicator for continued growth.
Managing Growth in Whistler
As Whistler becomes busier, managing growth has never been more crucial. A shortage of employees has strained the market, even with more employees coming in. This has strained the employee housing situation and affects the quality-of-life employees enjoy.
Also of concern, is shrinking school capacity as the residential population grows and the increase in traffic resulting from a vibrant and growing municipality. Task forces and community forums have been formed to solve these issues with highway and community road improvements already planned. The OCP understands these complications and recognizes that the community has concerns over what the ultimate size of Whistler will be.
Growth in Whistler will have impacts on the following:
- The balance and feel of the community
- The environment and ecosystem
- Infrastructure and service capacity
- The vitality of the economy and community
- Quality of life
- Capacity of resort community
It is important to the OCP and to everyone that quality of services and experiences isn’t diminished.
Action continues to be taken to ensure smooth growth, with an additional 1,000 new employee units being built in response for example.
Whistler and Blackcomb
Ongoing development and improvements have been critical to the success Whistler continues to enjoy. Developments on the mountains and at the base were and are important to consider in the Master Plan, and ongoing strategies of the community. This is imperative to maintain a balance of resort and community living, demonstrating why having an integrated strategy is ideal for everyone.
Whistler Works with the Lil’wat Nation and Squamish Nation
In developing the OCP, the municipality is always working to explore further integration with the local First Nations. The OCP demands constant review, these Nations will be a part of this process and residents have the expectation that they will be too. Having accountability to residents for ongoing OCP is the most important aspect of developing Whistler into the amazing place to live, work in and visit that it is.
If you are curious how these plans impact real estate in Whistler, we are here to answer any and all questions that you may have.