Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

Islands Trust staff offices unlikely to end up at SIMS

Islands Trust staff have not pursued the possibility of moving Trust offices to Capital Regional District (CRD)-administered buildings for months, according to CRD staff, seemingly discouraged by the Salt Spring Multi-Space (SIMS) facility’s zoning and building code requirements. 

The Trust’s Salt Spring Island staff have been casting about for a new home since last summer, as that body’s lease with BC Hydro at their Lower Ganges Road location is not being renewed and will end on July 24. And as they seek an office for full- and part-time planners and administrative staff — along with document storage, meeting and server space for the land use authority — the SIMS building appears to have fallen out of the running early.

According to a Trust staff report, the Trust’s 2022 governance review prioritizes serving the more than two-fifths of Islands Trust residents who live on Salt Spring through an on-island office — and they’ve been looking for a new one in an increasingly small commercial market.  

While Islands Trust documents avoid mentioning specific buildings by name, SIMS has long seemed a likely possibility — but Salt Spring’s CRD Electoral Area manager Dan Ovington gave a sort of “preview” of an upcoming staff report on the matter Thursday, Feb. 1, during the Local Community Commission (LCC) meeting, suggesting SIMS might not be on the short list.

Ovington said Trust staff had reached out with some interest in late fall. For its part, the LCC had asked staff to report back what possibilities there were for bringing more of its own CRD offices under the same roof as current parks and recreation staff at the SIMS building — and even, perhaps, leasing space to the Islands Trust. 

But Ovington said the impression he was left with after speaking with CRD building inspectors was that there would be a number of obstacles to overcome. 

Apart from space, Ovington said, he’d been told the real problems to solve centred on zoning and building codes. The SIMS building’s “Community Facilities” CF1 zoning, to start, requires any office space to be “accessory” to its permitted principal uses. 

“So [administering] recreational programs, educational programs, that type of thing,” said Ovington, noting that even CRD offices outside of parks and rec — like building inspection — wouldn’t immediately qualify, much less those for the Islands Trust. And, Ovington said, while in his early discussions with Islands Trust staff they had suggested the Trust could issue a temporary use permit allowing those kinds of offices, CRD building inspectors have told him it would require a change in the occupancy permit — which would mean getting the building up to code for diversified uses. 

If the CRD leases space — beyond the current facility booking regime currently in place, where CRD staff unlock the building in the morning and close it at night — building codes will require multiple safety improvements. 

“If we give keys to someone else,” said Ovington as an example, “we have to put firewalls in, to separate them from the other users. That’s what I’ve been told — I think if we want to do an in-depth needs assessment and evaluation, a higher level of expertise needs to be retained to give us some real clear recommendations. That’s probably what my report back will say, and recommend that as a next step.” 

Holman asked if the Islands Trust was still considering SIMS at this point; Ovington said although it was still possible, there had been no indication they were. 

“Essentially, what I was asked was if space was available at Portlock, and at SIMS, and I gave them the same response that I just gave you,” said Ovington. “And that was probably in October; I haven’t been approached again.” 

The report to the LCC is expected at its regular meeting Thursday, Feb. 8, which begins at 5 p.m.

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