Friday, December 9, 2022
December 9, 2022

Housing bylaw critics air concerns at open house

Concerns about Airbnb proliferation, bylaw enforcement and a lack of data were shared by Salt Spring residents at a virtual open house on two bylaws meant to allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs). 

Bylaw 526 is a response to a change in provincial regulations on farmworker housing on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) lands. Under the proposed Islands Trust bylaw, which has gone through the second of three readings at the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee (LTC), Agriculture 1 and 2 land can have single family dwellings and a secondary suite within the main dwelling and an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), the latter subject to a few specific conditions.  

“So you can have the main dwelling, a secondary suite and a farmworker housing,” said Islands Trust planner Geordie Gordon. “Anything above and beyond that still requires additional application to the [Agricultural Land Commission].” 

In response to concern from the farming community that farmworker housing was only being allowed in ALR lands yet many Salt Spring farms are outside the ALR, Gordon said the bylaw also allows for larger farms in other zones to “utilize subdivision potential to build extra housing without subdividing or rezoning.” This would apply to properties with farm tax status. 

The status, which can be allowed to lapse or if a property sells doesn’t require the new owners to maintain it, is an “imperfect way” to regulate this kind of housing, Gordon noted. 

Under the bylaw, seasonal and casual farmworkers are now able to access housing, Gordon said, compared to only permanent employees.

“It also allows farmer dwellings to be used for family members, which is something that we heard is required for sort of farm succession planning,” he said.

In general, the additional housing the bylaw allows for is only allowed to be inhabited by farmworkers or family members on farms with a commercial farm operation with farm status. 

“It’s very laudable to have more dwellings for farmworkers on farms, but how are you going to prevent these new buildings or old buildings being used for Airbnb?” Michael Wall asked. Gordon answered that bylaw enforcement was how this would be handled. Wall noted this is “extremely problematic and ineffective” and the bylaw could simply be facilitating more short-term rentals. The Trust previously considered a covenant as an option to restrict the use of the ADU, but it was seen as too burdensome to property owners. A covenant could be reworked into the bylaw, if there is a strong feeling that it is needed, Gordon added. Covenants are also an imperfect tool, he said, as they too require bylaw enforcement and potentially costly court procedures to get owners to comply with covenants. 

Christine Torgrimson added her support for a covenant on both bylaws 526 and 530.

“It would give the Islands Trust an extra legal handle in enforcing against [short-term vacation rentals],” she said, adding that covenants can be flexible and include reporting requirements from the landowner, which would lessen the burden on Trust staff.

Short-term vacation rentals are the biggest area of bylaw activity on the island, Gordon said, and there is a risk that units like this, if built, would be used unlawfully. While some enforcement in this area can be tricky, as bed and breakfasts are allowed in many zones, the enforcement of farmworker dwelling units should be more clear cut.

“This is a farmworker dwelling unit, not to be used for Airbnb.” 

Bylaw 530 has received first reading from the LTC. In its current draft form, the bylaw allows secondary suites, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in or adjacent to built dwellings. Each ADU would need a building permit, where water, septic and sewer requirements would be addressed. 

Three open house participants said they wanted to see a build-out calculation, essentially what the result would be if all those properties allowed to build ADUs on their lots did so.  

Islands Trust acting regional planning manager Louisa Garbo said the Trust does not yet have data on how many ADUs could possibly be built under the new bylaw.

“Mapping doesn’t really give you the true data, this is just an assumption saying how many single family lots potentially can have the ADUs, but it’s not saying they’ll all have the ADUs,” she said.  

One school of thought, backed by recent BC Housing commissioned research, asserts that there will be little uptake of the new dwelling units allowed under the draft bylaw. Most growth in ADU development happened in communities with more than 12,000 to 20,000 residents and in most communities ADUs account for under 10 per cent of homes, according to the BC Housing study. 

“It may or may not get taken up quickly, but it’s likely to get built out over the years either way,” Ronald Wright said, adding that it’s “astounding” to have the draft bylaw presented to the public without the number of minimum and maximum ADUs that could result from the bylaw. 

Wright added that the same fear about Airbnb proliferation expressed around Bylaw 526 should apply to Bylaw 530.

No one at the Zoom open house spoke in favour of the bylaw, which has a tentative public hearing date of Aug. 18. 

Comments on the bylaws should be sent to ssiinfo@islandstrust.bc.ca, or mailed to or dropped off at the Salt Spring Islands Trust office. To view the bylaws and related documents, visit the Salt Spring projects page at www.islandstrust.bc.ca.  

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