Viewpoint: Dangerous Rezoning Being Contemplated

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By MAXINE LEICHTER

Ever wonder why we have zoning bylaws? It’s an important question. The rural character of your neighbourhood, the privacy you enjoy, and perhaps even the quality and quantity of your water depend on the number of dwellings that are allowed per lot.

I recommend you take a careful look at what is allowed next door to you. There could be many changes as a result of decisions taken at the Nov. 9 meeting of the Local Trust Committee.

In 2017, then trustees suspended enforcement of illegal dwellings on Salt Spring unless there are more than one per lot. In 2020, that policy was expanded by current trustees to cover all illegal dwellings, but only as an emergency pandemic measure. Now, trustees have extended that temporary measure “until there are safe, secure, appropriate housing options that are affordable for all demographics and household types in perpetuity.”

Exceptions will be made if there is a health, safety or environmental threat, but even then, no action will be taken unless someone complains. And as everyone knows, most people are reluctant to complain about their neighbours because they don’t want conflict.

It has long been a Salt Spring tradition to rent out questionable, non-code-compliant structures. Several years ago, a local realtor wrote a blog that included this: “The vast majority of suites on Salt Spring are illegal suites. I personally have been in hundreds of them and some are nice and some are not. Some are dank dark fire traps I would not let my dog sleep in.”

One would think that a non-code-compliant dwelling would automatically be considered a safety threat. That is the reason we have a building code. Such buildings can be a potential fire threat to residents and the neighbourhood.

The non-enforcement policy can only be changed at a local Trust committee meeting, which currently seems very unlikely. But change is still possible if, for example, new trustees are elected. Unfortunately, that is not the case with zoning changes.

Trustees are now proposing bylaw changes that would allow “accessory dwellings” such as cottages and in-house suites in ALL zones on Salt Spring. This is particularly dangerous because zoning stays with the land and is difficult to undo. Once people have a right to develop, they don’t want it taken away. And we don’t yet know how many “accessory dwellings” will be allowed in each zone.

Just imagine what could end up next door to you when this zoning change is coupled with the non-enforcement policy. Write to our local trustees and let them know that such a change of zoning is unacceptable, especially on an island with limited resources and services, and where rural character is supposed to be protected.

Yes, we need affordable housing, but it must be safe and it must comply with our official community plan. This can be provided by zoning for more purpose-built subsidized housing, like the 100 plus we already have and many more being planned.

7 Comments
  1. Justin Credible says

    If someone wants to live in a tiny bunkie, treehouse, RV etc….that is quite literally a staple of rural island life. This isn’t Surrey or Vancouver, I don’t want everyone to have the same housing. Alternative lifestyles and dwellings have always been an island thing and always will be. It’s a wonderful thing. As long as they’re safe and sewage is dealt with (composting and incinerator toilets are very, very low impact). A substandard fire trap in someone’s basement is one very different subject and should be enforced, but people wanting to live off the land in structures other than a large permitted house should never be dictated to or told where they’re “allowed” to put their head down at night by any level of government.

    Again, the islands are not Vancouver. They should not be governed as such. Many people moved here to escape bureaucracy and enjoy more freedom and nature.

  2. Mark says

    Instead of passing this, the trustees should just put a moratorium on bylaw enforcement on illegal dwellings until October 2022 or even 2023 until Salt Spring deals with housing and density in a holistic manner with community consensus.

  3. Diego Vega says

    Our trustees are derelict in their duty of care to our citizens.

    By advising their constituents to ignore bylaws that they themselves have put in place is a clear violation of their fiduciary obligations to their constituents.

    A recent Driftwood poll showed that some 60% of our community is against their actions.

    If that includes you, and you would like to help bring together a group of concerned citizens to save our community, please send me a reply. Let’s find our voice and let’s have it heard.

  4. Andrea P says

    “Just imagine what could end up next door to you when this zoning change is coupled with the non-enforcement policy.” Hmmmm: a suite housing health care workers and their families? A farm with a year-round housing complex for farm workers and apprentices (and their kids)? A low-impact eco-cooperative that provides housing and jobs to youth? None of this is alarming. What really scares me? An island of gated estate-holders who fear diversity and resist change. This creative response by the Trust to a housing emergency in our community is most welcome. We cannot continue to marginalize working-class people, families, and young people in the name of ‘conservation’ alone, and we have to take some risks to get from where we are — an exodus of our island’s labour force — to where we want to be … which could be a vibrant, diverse, just and sustainable community. Let’s not let conservation – or conservatism – blind us and privilege the right to housing for only those who have capital.

    1. Linda James says

      I agree.

  5. tony maude says

    It’s this thinking that is the root cause of people living in tents. Not everyone can afford or look for “conventional” housing and options need to be out there unless your plan is that everyone else should fund free new housing for those that are in need. We all understand that is not feasible or the desire of all needing alternative housing. Perhaps an inspection service could be offered by the CRD building inspection department to ensure that obvious safety issues can be identified and creative ways to address them are developed that support the continued use of sub-par housing rather then forcing the vacating of housing in all but the worst cases. Given the economics of these housing options, perhaps rather then spending tax dollars to purchase land and build new, a process could be developed that sees these tax dollars spent over a much wider area, covering many more situations by providing small grants to improve existing rental accommodation. Those funds could be provided to community groups with the expressed purpose of not enriching landlords but improving poor housing through agreements with landlords to fix the rental rate for a fixed period of time.

  6. T. says

    The problem is NOW Maxine. Of the 45 properties listed for sale as of Nov. 12, only 4 were listed for less than $600K. Who can afford that? You are worried about rural character, but maybe you should be worried about the bigger picture. This island has become an enclave for the rich, but in no time at all, no one will want to live here because the services will be gone.

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