Islands Trust staff will be creating a report on bylaw enforcement case volume and capacity issues following information presented at Trust Council’s quarterly meeting on Salt Spring last week.
An update from bylaw enforcement manager Warren Dingman and a delegation by Salt Spring resident Maxine Leichter brought the issue to the forefront, producing quick recognition of the need for more information. North Pender trustee Deb Morrison observed that better bylaw enforcement and funding to support it have been called for in public feedback on the 2020-21 budget.
“I think my favourite [comment is] ‘The Islands Trust needs to be strong in order to carry out its mandate to preserve and protect the natural rural features of the Islands Trust. It needs to be able to hire people, among other things, to enforce bylaws,’” Morrison read. “So really having clear information on this can help us get ahead of this for next year’s budget cycle and figure out how to do this fully.”
Dingman reported that more than 300 files remained open at the end of December 2019, representing an increase over the previous year-end number. He further noted the litigation budget for compliance and enforcement is forecast to be $25,000 over budget this fiscal year due to short-term vacation rental litigations, the desire for more enforcement by some local Trust committees, and the fact that enforcement of development permit areas cannot be done using the bylaw enforcement notification system.
Leichter said in her delegation that she had spoken with many islanders who felt frustrated with bylaw enforcement because they weren’t updated on compliance progress. She also pointed to open file statistics across the Trust area, which show 156 cases are from one to five years old and 56 have been open for more than five years.
“It appears that the bylaws only apply to those who choose to follow them. The Islands Trust cannot protect the islands if they do not achieve compliance in a timely manner or, in some cases, ever,” Leichter said. Gabriola trustee Scott Colbourne spoke in favour of getting the enforcement capacity report as a step toward improvement.
“I think this goes hand in hand with stewardship education,” Colbourne said. “There’s a lot of newcomers to the communities which I represent, and we need to communicate to them where they’re living, what’s special about it and how to reduce our impact on the environment. This is for when that doesn’t work, and I think these two do need to go hand in hand.”
“A lot of our work is going to retroactively dealing with people who simply go ahead and do things, and then a lot of our LTC and staff time goes into how to try to put a tree back where a tree was cut down,” he added.
Salt Spring trustee Laura Patrick agreed that she has spent time with people who feel their complaint isn’t being taken seriously, and suggested better communication about the process could be discussed. Staff confirmed that people do receive an initial letter of receipt after a complaint is made.