By FRANTS ATTORP
Anyone doubting the ambitions of local housing advocates need only read Jason Mogus’ “Affordable housing is not coming for your STVR” article in last week’s Driftwood. Here are the words that jumped out at me: “…so many thousands of fellow islanders…fighting for a right to a safe and stable home….”
Given that there are only about 11,000 permanent residents on the island, I question Jason’s numbers. However, most disturbing is the revelation that his group, and others, are pursuing such an aggressive housing agenda. My previous assertions that Salt Spring is poised for sweeping changes are proving all too accurate.
As I’ve pointed out in my articles, housing advocates are, among other things, pushing for deals with private landowners, particularly those who have acreages. The idea is to swap higher densities for affordable housing, green space and other amenities.
A key proposal is something called “eco-zoning”. This would allow multiple dwelling units under one roof and “create a legal pathway for clusters of small, low-impact homes”.
Jason insists that “those pushing for housing solutions are not a lobby but a movement”, but then contradicts himself a few paragraphs later by stating that one of his group’s recommendations is to “lobby the Islands Trust”. Pressuring elected representatives for a new zoning category that allows higher densities is indeed the action of a lobby group, and using plastic words such as “eco”, “sustainable” and “low-impact” does little to hide the reality of what is going down.
Additionally, it is offensive to suggest that those who object to the housing agenda “love to generate conflict”. This implies we are dim-witted contrarians whose concerns are unfounded.
No one can deny there is a shortage of housing for workers on the island, but it is now clear that current discussions go far beyond employee accommodations. Housing advocates want to change the demographics of the island and provide affordable housing for all who land on our shores. There is nothing modest about their proposal.
Normally, I would strongly support affordable housing for everyone, but in this case I can’t for one simple reason: the Gulf Islands are a protected area. They are not ours to develop, and, unfortunately, that means population growth must be curtailed.
There are already numerous spontaneous communes on the island, and they represent but a fraction of all illegal dwellings in the community. It’s a huge problem that needs to be addressed (over time and without evictions) if the island’s “unique amenities and environment” are going to survive into the future. Logistically, unregulated development is entirely incompatible with protected areas.
Today’s dilemma stems partly from the fact that many of the terms in the Island’s Trust documents remain undefined. Words such as “unique amenities”, “rural” and “limits to growth” are wide open to interpretation, so it is essential that some type of measurable criteria be established. We cannot find our way forward with a broken compass.
There are pros and cons to having a Local Trust Committee. We get local representation, but have to accept that trustees will be pressured by various lobby groups, most of whom want to advance a human cause.
If the Islands Trust can’t protect these islands, then perhaps it’s time to turn the administration of the region over to BC Parks or another such agency that is less vulnerable to public pressure and more focused on environmental protection.