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.