Trust housing bylaws open house this Thursday

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Salt Spring Islanders will be hearing more about two proposed bylaws meant to increase options for rental housing and housing on farmland at an open house this Thursday.

The meeting, to be held virtually from 4 to 6 p.m. on July 21, will delve deeper into a new bylaw on accessory dwelling units and a separate bylaw on farmworker housing.

Allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which includes secondary suites in homes as well as detached units such as cottages or mobile homes, was a recommendation made by the Housing Action Program Task Force in 2021. One of several recommendations made to address the island’s rental housing crisis, the Local Trust Committee (LTC) instructed Islands Trust staff to draft a bylaw that would allow would-be landlords to either rent out existing ADUs or construct new ones.

The result was Bylaw 530, which received first reading by the LTC in April and is open for public comment, which has so far come in the form of delegations to LTC meetings as well as 22 letters. 

To make the bylaw more impactful, the housing task force recommended allowing ADUs in all zones and scrapping minimum lot size restrictions for detached ADUs.

“That’s based on the idea that there’s already protection for water and for waste management, it’s already built into the process,” said task force chair Rhonan Heitzmann at a July 12 LTC meeting. Planner and Salt Spring Solutions board member Elizabeth FitzZaland agreed, telling the LTC at a June 14 meeting that having a minimum requirement for lot size would make the bylaw “largely ineffective.”

The first draft of Bylaw 530 included a minimum lot size for detached ADUs of 1.2 hectares. The current draft of the bylaw allows for detached ADUs in lots under 1.2 hectares, provided they have a floor area of 56 square metres or smaller. 

Some residents opposed to the proposed bylaw urged, in letters to the LTC, the focus to remain on protecting the natural environment.

“The mandate of the Islands Trust is to [preserve] and protect!,” wrote Eddy and Jan Jang. “It would seem that this has been forgotten. Having lived on Salt Spring Island . . . we can see and feel the erosion of our way of life.”

Others urged the LTC to focus their efforts elsewhere, including enforcing the island’s short-term vacation rental bylaw and developing mixed use rental buildings in Ganges. 

A number of residents questioned whether the ADU bylaw was in alignment with the island’s official community plan. “To have such a bylaw on the books in perpetuity, in contravention of the official community plan (OCP) requirements for ‘few and minor’ exceptions, will threaten the future of this island. This island has a carrying capacity and it needs to be recognized,” wrote Mavis MacMillen.  

Heitzmann addressed the fears of some islanders about this bylaw contributing to more density. Referencing a 2003 Trust report on affordable housing, he said that accessory dwelling units are secondary infill.

“It’s not adding urbanization, it’s adding a layer of flexibility to an already existing development that’s already happened,” he said. “It’s saying, ‘It’s okay for you to build a single family house for a family of eight. Why can’t we have some flexibility so you have two people in the house and two people in some other dwelling?’” 

The real impact on the environment, Heitzmann said, is the rural sprawl resulting from land being carved up for single family dwellings and the driveways, roads and other associated infrastructure that go in. This kind of future build-out will be unaffordable for working-class people, and anyone in the younger generation, he added. 

“Some opponents suggest that allowing ADUs will create some sort of rush on development, doubling or tripling the density and population of our island, devastating our water resources. This simply isn’t fact based,” said FitzZaland.

She noted that the uptake of these dwellings is “very gradual and not widely embraced by most property owners.”

According to research commissioned by BC Housing, communities the size of Salt Spring see an uptake of under 10 per cent. 

The cost and difficulty of building housing and the fact that not everyone wants to be a landlord are some reasons why many won’t opt to build new ADUs, Heitzmann explained, yet many people are already housed in these kinds of dwellings on Salt Spring.

“A new ADU bylaw isn’t going to double our population and it also isn’t going to solve our housing supply issue. But it will provide a legal avenue for the existing non-conforming ADUs to be legalized, which would empower tenants and landlords to come out of the shadows,” said FitzZaland.

Bylaw 526 was drafted to allow farmworker units on properties zoned Agriculture 1 and 2 on Salt Spring, complying with new provincial regulations for Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) lands. 

The bylaw’s definition of a farmworker’s dwelling unit as an accommodation for “farmworkers employed in that farm business or for immediate family” is too restrictive, said president of the Salt Spring Island Farmers’ Institute Marguerite Lee at a July 7 special LTC meeting. The definition also isn’t clear on whether the housing can be used for agri-tourism, she said, an activity which could include housing participants in a farm workshop, for example.

A letter from the Salt Spring Island Agricultural Alliance requested the bylaw change be extended to all lots on the island where commercial farm businesses are operating, rather than as currently written restricted to ALR lands. This is problematic, said co-owner of Salt Spring Apple Company/Ciderworks Brian Webster, as half of the island’s farmland gets excluded.

In a letter to the Trust, Matt Cecill noted Bylaw 526 is more restrictive than provincial Agricultural Land Commission regulations. In a July 2021 announcement about the proposed changes, the agriculture ministry stated the additional residence could be used for “housing extended family, agri-tourism accommodation, housing for farm labour or a rental property for supplemental income. There is no longer a requirement that additional residences must be used by the landowner or immediate family members.”

To join Thursday’s virtual open house, visit https://islandstrust.bc.ca/event/ssi-ltc-open-house-526-530/ and click on the “join meeting” button.

The Trust added that should residents want to meet with a planner, they are available by phone or Zoom on Thursdays from 10 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 2 p.m. Reserve a meeting time by emailing ssiinfo@islandstrust.bc.ca.

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