Supporters hoping to reverse a November decision barring a Salt Spring Island dog rescue and boarding organization from operating at its new location face an uphill battle, as local officials’ options appear limited by the island’s official community plan (OCP).
The biggest hurdle is seemingly the proposed kennel property’s land use designation under that OCP, and that it is — mostly — mapped as “Watershed and Islet Residential,” severely limiting what can be built there.
“The nature of this zoning is very restrictive to any development further than a dwelling unit and agriculture,” said planner Chris Buchan at the Nov. 16 Salt Spring Local Trust Committee (LTC) meeting.
Buchan added that the restriction is reflective of the OCP’s policy to limit land uses in ways that protect watershed health.
Indeed, under Bylaw 434 — the 2008 establishment bylaw for the island’s OCP — the property’s designation does not allow for exceptions under the Islands Trust’s temporary use permit (TUP) process, which was how Salty Dog Retreat’s Jaime Halan-Harris approached the LTC.
Since 2018, Salty Dog has taken in lost animals and provided rescue and pet shelter services to islanders at its own expense. Last winter, according to Halan-Harris, personal circumstances prompted the business to relocate from its site on Rainbow Road to a 10-acre parcel she purchased on Blackburn Road in March.
In April, Halan-Harris applied for permission — through a TUP application — to operate in that new location. That application was modified after its initial submission, according to a staff report, ultimately including plans to expand by the fall to offer worker accommodations using three recreational vehicle pads and a campground.
“The kennel is not just a kennel,” Halan-Harris said. “The kennel is also a vocational rehab program and therapy for youth who were homeless … They do 15 hours of cleaning (sometimes only five hours) and they get support from me as well as each other and a sense of community.”
Halan-Harris seemingly believed she could apply for a TUP for these uses under Bylaw 355 — Salt Spring’s land use bylaw (LUB). While most of her new property lies in that bylaw’s restrictive Rural Watershed zone, a small portion is in the Rural zone — where businesses such as a dog kennel and even campground could generally be approved, if an LTC chose to do so.
Placement of kennel operations — to say nothing of campground facilities — in the slim 30-metre-wide northern Rural-zoned section of the property would, at a minimum, likely run afoul of setback and septic requirements, according to staff — and trustees at the November meeting expressed concerns about suitable road access.
But even if the LTC intended to grant variances on such matters later, the OCP limits where they might contemplate even starting the process.
The relationship between the OCP map and the zoning map is largely congruous, but is also such that while the latter lays out specific regulations — showing what can and cannot be built on a particular property — the former governs where an LTC is permitted to make rezoning decisions. If the LTC chooses to issue any TUP within the OCP’s watershed zoning, according to staff, it would be in contravention of its own OCP — and would invite a legal challenge, particularly given the importance of the aquifer to residents in the Cusheon Lake area.
While staff told trustees they communicated the “policy restrictions and outcomes of recommended denial” to Halan-Harris “throughout the process,” there was apparently no consideration of simply not accepting the application form (and application fee) for the TUP in the first place. Such an action by staff could have been arguably overstepping, as they hold no authority for land use decisions; that power lies exclusively with the LTC. And, in an explanation of process on the first page of the TUP application, applicants are advised to review both the OCP and LUB before applying.
Meanwhile, bylaw enforcement entered the picture early on, according to the staff report, as the business began “land alteration” and kennel operations in advance of any decision on the permit. With the appearance of a “dog kennel structure, multiple RVs, small tent/non-permanent cabin units, and onsite servicing (i.e. a well and holding tank),” Trust staff stated, complaints were received — over noise and concerns about environmental impacts — and officers responded, issuing infraction notices.
Halan-Harris has encouraged supporters to write letters to the LTC and to attend the next LTC meeting on Thursday, Dec. 14.