Housing bylaw process paused 

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Salt Spring’s latest effort to address the island’s tight housing market is in a holding pattern, while officials and staff look to address both First Nations and wider public concerns.

Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee (LTC) members agreed Sept. 6 with a staff recommendation to pause consideration of a third reading for Bylaw 530 in order to consult with Tsawout First Nation — given receipt of the nation’s lands manager’s negative response to the proposal — and also directed staff to develop recommendations to address multiple concerns expressed by other community members.

Bylaw 530, crafted at the urging of the Housing Action Program Task Force and shaped through several public events and LTC amendments, is meant to help ease Salt Spring’s rental supply crunch by permitting a new housing option: accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which would be permitted in several zones across the island. The bylaw text also presents a host of regulations on how those ADUs would be permitted and used, and while the proposal has been referred to several relevant and organizations with no changes recommended — apart from the inclusion of building and fire code requirements and the provision of water and sewer, according to staff reports — the combination of substantial public concern and direct opposition from Tsawout First Nation seems to have been pivotal in the LTC’s decision to pause its process.

On the day of a well-attended public hearing Aug. 18, staff received a letter from Tsawout First Nation in response to referral of the proposed bylaw, expressing its opposition; representatives concluded the bylaw, as written, could infringe upon Tsawout aboriginal rights and title, inasmuch as the potential impact was not directly considered.

“Bylaw No. 530 does not address the potential impacts increased development and living capacity will have on Tsawout First nations rights to manage the traditional territory for now and future generations,” reads the Aug. 16 letter.

While acknowledging the broader housing crisis, Tsawout First Nation also believes the proposed referral will significantly change the “environmental trajectory” of Salt Spring Island by pushing the living capacity past the standards originally outlined in the island’s official community plan.

“The island does not have the capacity to increase living conditions without threatening the environmental stability of our traditional territory.”

As he agreed with staff’s recommendation to halt the process for First Nation consultation, trustee Peter Grove also felt the large number of other public comments, both in support of and in opposition to the proposed bylaw, deserved attention.

“It was a very full and interesting public meeting,” said Grove. “I think we need to address some of the many valid questions and points that were made, and have some kind of response to those concerns.”

Trustee Laura Patrick agreed, and pointed out that among the stated principles for the housing action program was that the LTC would “early and throughout the process” facilitate regular open dialogue with a full spectrum of the community, including First Nations.

“I know things kind of moved quickly this summer,” said Patrick. “I think there’s a number of things we can do to improve the bylaw, do a little bit more research, in addition to carrying on the dialogue with First Nations.”

Specifically Patrick wanted staff to research options to limit the number of ADUs that could be permitted in a given time period, as well as potential amendments to the proposed bylaw — such as limits to total floor areas, shared driveways, or proximities to existing structures — that could minimize environmental impacts of its implementation. Patrick also felt there was a need for a strong education component, should the bylaw come into force.

“We need communication materials that explain what these different forms of dwelling units are, for people to recognize the paths to making them legal,” said Patrick.

Trustees directed staff to explore and report back to LTC on those matters, as well as to review concerns raised at the public hearing — and those of Tsawout First Nation — and provide recommendations on what action, if any, the LTC might take to address those concerns.

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