By FRANTS ATTORP
Is it time to give up on the Gulf Islands dream and encourage the Islands Trust to secure as much green space as possible before it’s too late? There is a strong case to be made for this, at least on Salt Spring.
As the debate over housing and development unfolds, there are repeated assertions by trustees and others that the Trust can meet both its environmental and social goals and create an island paradise where humans live in harmony with nature. This suggests we can have our cake and eat it too.
There is no question the current housing situation needs attention. Workers and others of modest means need a decent place to live, and there are also valid concerns about gentrification.
But let’s not fool ourselves by thinking the housing crisis will go away anytime soon. With burgeoning urban centres all around it’s only a matter of time before the pot boils over again . . . and again. At what point will words like “rural” and “unique environment” lose their meaning?
Three things are absent from recent housing discussions: acceptance that we live in a protected area; acknowledgement that people pressure is ongoing; and support for enforcement, without which there can be no protected area. There are plenty of ideas for creating new densities, but none for limiting growth in the long term.
Nothing better demonstrates the helplessness of the Islands Trust than Standing Resolution SS-2017-168, which instructs bylaw enforcement officers to act “only if there is more than one unlawful dwelling on a lot.” And then there’s the STVR fiasco and proposed Bylaw 471 which would allow the widespread use of temporary use permits and further undermine our official community plan.
While I understand the Trust has many balls to juggle, I have lost hope there will be a strong commitment to enforcing bylaws and holding the line on densities once the current situation is addressed. Nature has no voice, but humans clamour like hell when their basic needs or financial aspirations are not met. It’s the way of the world.
I and some others have done our best to speak up for rural values and the environment, but it has come at a cost: We have been called selfish, privileged NIMBYs who like to argue. Is it any wonder that, despite broad support for the Trust’s original vision, so few are willing to stick their necks out?
There are many ways to secure green space: by transferring densities, placing covenants on private property, and using other tools at the Trust’s disposal.
The big advantages will be to finally give more of the island the protection it deserves, and provide increased access to the public. Additionally, Salt Spring’s failed attempt at density control can serve as a warning to other islands about the near hopelessness of administering an area with competing interests and protective legislation that is open to interpretation.
There is no indication the current trajectory is about to change. As the rural dream fades, it is ironic and tragic that our best chance for keeping most of Salt Spring green may be to adopt an urban planning model.