Thursday, June 8, 2023
June 8, 2023

Guest column: Salt Spring housing crisis — WHUs up for Ganges?


Second in a series

In Part One of this series I looked at the magnitude of our housing crisis and how many “workforce housing units” (WHUs) will be needed on Salt Spring Island to maintain existing services. Using my estimated WHU number of 3,900, let’s begin to look at the challenge of where WHUs can practically be located.

For years, the densification of Ganges has often been talked about as the “answer” to where to place more housing. The primary factors required to densify Ganges are (a) real estate values (REV) and availability, (b) servicing (water and sewer), (c) Agricultural Land Reserve limitations,  (d) OCP density and height limitations. Let’s look at each factor.

a. REVs. Current market values in Ganges indicate amalgamation of properties would be needed. For example, to create a reasonable-sized development of 30 WHUs would require two acres = $6-10 million = $200,000 to $330,000 per WHU land cost. A 600-square-foot apartment, at a modest $350-sf construction cost, would therefore range between $400,000 and $530,000 . . . a 1,000-sf apartment between $550,000 and $680,000. In that relatively simple scenario, it would require the acquisition, amalgamation and rezoning of six to 10 properties, which, I respectfully submit, would be extremely difficult due to the multiple factors involved in amalgamating properties.

b. Servicing. North Salt Spring Waterworks’ moratorium on water servicing in Ganges means any development, or redevelopment of property, resulting in a net increase in water use, is currently prohibited. Rainwater collection is not a viable option for high density development.

According to the 2019 engineering report to the Capital Regional District, the Ganges sewer system is currently at a maximum buildout capacity. That means that if every property in the area is built out to its current density potential, there is not enough capacity to handle the flow. Any increase in density in the area will require either an increase in plant size or an alternative way to deal with the effluent. Thus, both water and sewer are currently major challenges in the Ganges area. That having been said, solutions are available, including the lifting of the moratorium, recycling of water and expansion of sewer capability.

c. Agricultural Land Reserve. Ganges is surrounded by ALR properties. The Agricultural Land Commission is extremely reticent to allow any property to be removed from the reserve. Thus, most of the larger land parcels in the Ganges area would be unavailable for development, unless, as an example, the Province was prepared to overrule the ALC. See map at

d. OCP limitations on density of 15 units per acre could be increased. However, practically, there is only one way to accomplish that – by building up, not out. At the existing OCP maximum density per acre, 260 acres would be required to construct 3,900 WHUs, about the same size as the entire, current developed portion of Ganges village. Allowing mid-rise, five-storey apartments (as Duncan has done in one area) would help to efficiently use available land and reduce overall development footprint.

All of the above suggest that while Ganges could hold part of the potential solution to the housing crisis, it doesn’t hold the entire solution, which begs the question: Where else can WHUs be located?”

In Part Three I’ll explore long-term, viable solutions in other areas of the island.

Eric Booth is a long-time Salt Spring resident and island realtor. The above is the second piece in a series.


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