Dragonfly Commons Proponents optimistic about progress

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The proponents of an affordable housing development in Ganges are hopeful that significant progress is being made five years after they first announced their vision to the community.

Tami and Fernando Dos Santos have been working to meet all the steps required to create the Dragonfly Commons community of 30 small homes since 2016. They recently announced they have received conditional approval for a groundwater use licence from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, which has triggered movement on other fronts. 

These include achieving first reading of a number of bylaws necessary for rezoning the property to add housing density, with full support of the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee.

“I really appreciate your dedication to hanging in there and trying to move this over the finish line, so thank you,” trustee Laura Patrick said during the July 27 LTC meeting. 

“I’m so pleased to see this where it’s at,” agreed her fellow trustee Peter Grove. “There’s so much energy and effort that’s gone into it by so many people, particularly by the Dos Santos family.” 

The LTC had also supported first reading of a different set of bylaws for a previous version of the project, which was designed as a bare land subdivision with smaller lot sizes than usually permitted. 

Speaking after the meeting, Fernando Dos Santos explained the new strata model will still allow people to own their homes, as well as a share of the common property. But the changed model will allow local government to guide more of the process, instead of needing to go through the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) as the provincial subdivision authority. 

“That puts the decision making in our local hands, and then we as a community can decide if it’s appropriate or not,” Dos Santos said. 

The current state of Drake Road makes the difference potentially a key factor in the project’s success. Dos Santos said MoTI could have required Dragonfly to fix the entire road as a condition of subdivision — which would not be possible to do and still offer affordable homes. Having more people living at the end of the road could meanwhile put pressure on MoTI to make repairs to the area it’s already responsible for.

The Dragonfly Commons Housing Society is currently consulting with a manufactured home company that could supply one- and three-bedroom homes at 430 and 860 square feet. If infrastructure costs can be kept low, Dos Santos is hopeful the cost to  buy in would be as low as $250,000 for the one-bedroom version and $375,000 to $400,000 for the three-bedroom.

The challenges involved with the water licence and being required to operate a water utility will hopefully be solved through a partnership with North Salt Spring Waterworks District. Since a legal opinion found no issue with the improvement district adding a groundwater source to its freshwater supply, as long as it updates its bylaws and protocols, the board has been open to investigating the idea further. 

Dos Santos noted making those changes would cost the district time and money, however, which would not be appropriate for its existing ratepayers to bear. A grant application for $75,000 submitted by Dragonfly and endorsed by NSSWD could bring the needed funds from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) Housing Supply Challenge. Helpful support has come from Dragonfly board member Kisae Petersen, who has overseen the successful completion of new affordable housing units at Croftonbrook for Islanders Working Against Violence. 

Only 30 applicants will be successful with the CMHC grant, but those who are will share access to a $38-million fund to develop their projects. Dos Santos said Dragonfly’s share could pay for the water system and possibly the community’s roads, which would help keep home prices low. 

“This grant is a potential game-changer for Dragonfly Commons, NSSWD and affordable housing on the island,” Dos Santos said, noting once the water district has changed its bylaws, it could more easily take on other systems based on groundwater.

“That’s the sort of stuff we’re working on to try to make this work.”

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