Salt Spring officials may have found a way to accomplish one housing goal for the island — and if the details pencil out, the next meeting of the Local Trust Committee (LTC) could finally illuminate a path forward for legal accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
While it would be an understatement to say there are many details yet to be sorted, the sense in the room from all three trustees — and of Islands Trust staff, tasked with the sorting — seemed a combination of relief, fresh optimism and more than a little satisfaction.
“I think we had a really good day,” said LTC chair Tim Peterson as he — metaphorically — gavelled the meeting to an end Thursday, Nov. 16.
After considerable collaboration — and by unanimous vote — trustees advanced a plan to build upon the arguably watered-down version of Proposed Bylaw 530 tabled last month, a new map-based approach for ADU zoning that showed just a handful of properties where they would be allowed (and recently nicknamed “530-Lite” by trustee Laura Patrick).
Once that new map comes into effect through bylaw — Schedule “M,” according to planner Chris Hutton — the LTC hopes to establish a streamlined, lower-cost and lower-staff-time process for landowners who want to be added.
Much concern sparked by early versions of Bylaw 530 surrounded its scope, in that an abrupt rezoning of hundreds or thousands of island properties to allow ADUs could run afoul of guidance in the Salt Spring Island Official Community Plan (OCP). One OCP policy in particular states that zoning changes should be avoided if they would likely result in a larger population than was expected under the island’s development potential as zoned in 2008, and that exceptions to that policy “are to be few and minor,” and only to achieve affordable housing or other OCP objectives specifically.
The proposed “spot zoning” process, which trustees unanimously voted to ask staff to develop, is likely as minor as practicable for this LTC’s goals — in theory affecting one parcel at a time.
“You’d simply be applying to amend that map, rather than have your zoning changed,” said Hutton. “In order to provide a fast track, you’d have some criteria to meet.”
Trustees asked staff to identify those criteria, and to find ways to make the process less expensive for applicants — hopefully resulting in more affordable rents as landowners seek to recoup fewer costs.
“If it’s less work for staff, and we’re even able to waive a public hearing, there’s certainly rationale for seeking to amend the application fee,” said Hutton.
The question of whether the LTC could waive public hearings may already be a settled matter. While many of the new housing-related laws being rolled out by the province will likely not apply within the Islands Trust, one part of the Housing Statutes Amendment Act probably will: in Bill 44, which outright prohibits public hearings from being held on any land use bylaw amendments for residential (or mostly residential) applications anywhere an OCP is in place, so long as that rezoning is consistent with the OCP.
Moreover, Salt Spring may not have to wait for the province to sort it out, trustees argued.
“We don’t need Bill 44 to pass,” said Patrick, “because we [already] have the right to waive a public hearing for projects that are compliant with the OCP.”
What remains to be seen is how the new plan will land with the community; Thursday’s lightly attended LTC meeting was preceded by a robust town hall the night before, with several attending expressing disappointment with the pace and scope of this LTC’s efforts toward housing — as well as with the province’s exclusion of Salt Spring Island from much new legislation aimed at increasing B.C.’s housing stock, despite local trustees stating they wish to participate.
“If you’re saying it’s not the Trust Council lobbying the province to have us excluded, and our LTC is not lobbying the province, who is?” asked islander Corey Johnson during the Nov. 15 meeting held at the Salt Spring Golf Club. “Is it the lobbying groups that are currently opposing Bylaw 530? That concerns me greatly.”
“I can’t speak to what individuals or groups may have been lobbying the province, or not,” answered Peterson. “I don’t know.”
Others suggested they would be willing to lobby the provincial government for Salt Spring to be included in Bill 44.
At Thursday’s meeting, Salt Spring trustee Jamie Harris, who has long been an unequivocal supporter of the goals of Bylaw 530, told colleagues he was satisfied with the movement forward — particularly if plans can progress quickly enough to be able to approve an application process in time for the LTC’s December meeting.
“It would be like a Christmas present for the community,” quipped Harris.