Public probes Islands Trust cottages proposal

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The Salt Spring Local Trust Committee relaxed its regular meeting guidelines Saturday in order to take in more public opinion on a proposal to legalize some seasonal cottages for long-term rental accommodation.

The session at the Harbour House Hotel was scheduled as a community information meeting, which normally allows members of the public just to ask questions. LTC chair Peter Luckham explained that statements of opinion would also be accepted as the group really wanted hear what the community thought about the proposal.

The project would allow seasonal cottages to exist wherever they are currently permitted. Three new zones would be created where cottages are already allowed that would permit those cottages to be rented out as long-term homes, whether those cottages exist or have yet to be built. Additionally, the maximum floor size allowed for cottages would increase on lots that are two hectares or larger.

As explained by senior planner Jason Youmans, the project has been limited by some specific parameters laid out in Salt Spring’s official community plan. These start with the dictate that only “incremental” increases to the island’s total housing density should be contemplated, which a legal opinion has set at no higher than five per cent. This means a cap of just over 400 new dwellings over the current allowable build-out.

Other conditions on where full-time rental of cottages might be permitted that are laid out in the OCP have helped staff narrow down the area to meet the density cap. These include prohibitions against areas without an adequate supply of water, within a community water system or in community well capture zones. Staff also worked to limit rental cottage zones to be within one kilometre of an existing transit route, although that has been relaxed in one north-end section.

As explained at Saturday’s meeting, lots that have subdivision potential were excluded because of the possibility for creating extra density. The draft bylaw also stipulates that rental cottages cannot be subdivided and sold off as a building strata.

“If the whole purpose of this project is to create more rental housing, then people shouldn’t be selling off that cottage, because if you’re selling it off, it’s for somebody to enter the ownership market, not the rental market,” Youmans explained.

Members of the public who spoke during the meeting offered various critiques of the draft bylaw, with some people feeling it doesn’t offer adequate protection for water resources, affordability and other neighbourhood concerns, and others feeling that it doesn’t go far enough or the limiting factors should have been weighted differently.

Some, like Diane Clement, felt the project itself was well-meant but ill-advised.

“I feel that you’re trying to solve a social issue with something that isn’t a solution that’s going to work,” Clement said, adding the high cost to construct a new cottage would negate any possibility of low rents afterward.

“I think you have to start looking at other alternatives, something like a Brinkworthy Estates model, where you’re renting a space and you allow people to have a home placed there,” Clement said. “But I think this is missing the mark.”

There was also discussion about the pilot program that made secondary suites legal as affordable housing in some areas in 2013. Staff reported that out of close to 500 properties in the pilot area, fewer than 10  had registered a suite with the Islands Trust office. However, a large portion of the pilot area lies within the North Salt Spring Waterworks District, which put a moratorium on any new increase to demand the year after suites were allowed.

Jean Brouard and Sally John both spoke against the transit requirement, which is based on minimizing “dependency on private automobiles” as per the OCP.

The draft bylaw pushes the allowable area more toward the north end. John said less consideration should be given to the changeable transit system and more to where water supply is plentiful, “which is not an artificial construct” and means the southern part of the island.

Brouard additionally argued against limiting the area where seasonal cottages can be rented full-time, saying that would create a divided island of winners and losers. He suggested making it open to anyone permitted to have a cottage as long as they met all water, septage and other requirements.

Ian Peace, a director with the Salt Spring Water Preservation Society, outlined some potential problems the bylaw could create for other property owners and water supply. He said the mapping should exclude properties where secondary suites are already permitted, because of the potential for multiple dwellings on a single property. He also said cottage owners may already be acting in contravention of the Drinking Water Protection Act and the LTC should not encourage that to expand.

Youmans confirmed that any property owner that supplies water to more than one dwelling from the same source is considered to be operating a “water system” under provincial legislation and Island Health regulations, but said it is up to individuals to ensure they are compliant with the rules.

A public hearing on the draft bylaw will also be scheduled in the near future. Youmans said if the tight project timeline proposed can be achieved, the legislation could be finalized by January 2020.

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