Friday, March 24, 2023
March 24, 2023

Door opens on first draft of Trust housing bylaw

The Islands Trust continues to work on allowing more rental suites to be created island-wide, with local trustees reviewing a first draft of a new bylaw last week.  

The bylaw that came before the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee (LTC) for first reading Feb. 15 did not include allowing dwellings in accessory structures as first proposed when the LTC directed staff to create the bylaw last November. Staff advised that change would require an amendment to the official community plan (OCP). Instead, staff proposed an interim action to amend the land use bylaw (LUB) to allow secondary suites in all zones. Secondary suites are suites either within or attached to a principle single-family dwelling unit, a definition that doesn’t include other dwellings that could be located in a garage or other structure on a property. 

Trustees decided not to give the draft bylaw first reading and instead sent it back to staff to add in the definition of suites in accessory buildings. Trustee Laura Patrick said the objective of looking at accessory dwellings in all zones was “to cast a really wide net across the island in search of people who are willing to be landlords.” She said including suites in garages or other spaces not inside a home might make the prospect of becoming a landlord more attractive.  

Patrick argued that both secondary suites inside homes and suites in accessory buildings could be considered the same thing as the impact on the property is comparable. She questioned whether an OCP amendment would be needed in this case, as the plan leaves room for interpretation. 

In a presentation to the LTC, Housing Action Program Task Force chair Rhonan Heitzmann said the task force is taking environmental concerns, including the carrying capacity of the island, very seriously. 

“The environmental impact of a suite or dwelling unit is the same whether it is contained within the footprint of a main house or above a garage or a shop or within the walls of a seasonal cottage or studio,” he noted. “To claim otherwise is a logical fallacy that serves only to limit the uptake of the intended use of the bylaw effort underway.”

Staff were also instructed to remove the definition of density in the draft bylaw, and to look at what conditions and restrictions should be in the bylaw to phase in any new suites and manage the impacts. 

Patrick said that the number of suites approved should be limited, not an outright use, and this use should be monitored.

Heitzmann said a secondary dwellings registry should be set up, perhaps with a defined quota available to property owners island wide “who can prove adequate water and waste management on a first-come, first- served basis.” This would control the uptake and use of secondary dwellings in an incremental way, he said, and hopefully assuage the concerns of some regarding population growth. 

Patrick also asked whether the current restrictions on secondary suites in the rural upland and rural watershed zones could be lifted, instead replacing them with other conditions in the bylaw. She argued that some properties in these zones may be suitable for another dwelling depending on its current use.

“We’re trying to find people who want to do the right thing,” she said. “If we had the conditions in the bylaws that gave that flexibility yet also gave that control so that we didn’t have abuse and did just not add density, we’re just using unused space.” 

Regional planning manager Stefan Cermak reminded trustees that in general, the OCP and LUB were based on a principle of preserving the uplands and that Patrick’s proposal may challenge that notion.

Trust planner Louisa Garbo said the bylaw will go through revisions and a public input process, so won’t be finished in the next few months.

The Islands Trust is also looking at alternative water solutions that do not draw on the existing capacity of the water districts. 

Developer sought for tiny homes pilot

Planners are also working on a pilot project to build a tiny homes village on Salt Spring, one of the initiatives coming out of the Housing Action Program. For the time being, the idea is to attract one private developer, agency or non-profit interested in taking on such a project. Once the Trust gets clearer on how to provide water to such projects, they may be able to open the pilot up to more than one project.

Some concerns have been expressed about proposed 500-square-foot size limits, the lack of interest from a potential developer to take on such a project, and the fact that there is no mechanism to ensure the units in a future tiny home pilot project remain affordable if they become rental units. 

Garbo said the Islands Trust is looking for either a private developer, agency or non-profit interested in taking on such a project. The Trust could provide incentives such as planning staff time to expedite rezoning, technical support around a water system and possibly water rebates and help with finding grant funding. So far, Garbo said finding funding for home ownership is challenging but more work is being done on this aspect, which LTC chair Peter Luckham said is a critical piece of this kind of initiative.

Dragonfly Commons, Tami and Fernando Dos Santos’ plans to build 30 small homes in Ganges, is a similar project, Garbo clarified when asked by trustee Laura Patrick.

“It’s really the timing, because they submitted their applications and we were not ready. We were still working on developing the framework,” Garbo said. 

Slight change to stay of bylaw enforcement on unlawful dwellings 

The LTC also clarified the existing standing resolution they put in place in November, preventing bylaw enforcement on dwellings deemed unlawful by the Trust. The resolution only applies to existing dwellings, which is a small wording change staff noted would “provide clarity and . . . prevent the unintended consequences of allowing new illegal dwellings to be established.”

After a debate between trustees Peter Grove and Patrick, wording in the standing resolution that enforcement activities will be deferred “until there are safe, secure, appropriate housing options that are affordable for all demographics and household types in perpetuity” stayed in the resolution. 

Grove noted that achieving this state of housing is an impossibility, adding that the wording is unhelpful and is making “a lot of people quite upset in our community.” 

“This is a serious issue, we are not meeting the needs of our community,” Patrick said. “That’s the fundamental mandate of the Islands Trust, preserve and protect this area and that is including the diverse population of this community.”

Adding the wording was in response to the Housing Action Program Task Force, which had asked for wording to be added that addressed the need for bylaw enforcement to be deferred until sustainable housing solutions are implemented.  


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