By FRANTS ATTORP
As recently reported in the Driftwood, the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee is embarking on an “incremental” update of the island’s official community plan.
Given the incredible pressure trustees are now under by housing groups to approve more development, it will be important to focus on key indicators that show where this island is heading.
Our current OCP, adopted in 2008, states that, of the 5,800 residential lots on Salt Spring, approximately 1,300 are vacant and many are subdividable. “All told, the number of dwelling units (not including seasonal cottages and suites) that could be built on Salt Spring under current residential zoning is estimated to be about 8,150. The eventual population of Salt Spring that might result from the zoning now in place is estimated to be a little over 17,000.”
And then this crucial part: “Zoning changes should be avoided if they would likely result in a larger island population than is expected under development potential zoned in 2008. Exceptions to this policy are to be few and minor and only to achieve affordable housing and other objectives of this Plan.”
In other words, our existing OCP has capped the population of the island at 17,000 (about 6,000 more than today), and provided very little wiggle room. If trustees push that number significantly higher through upzoning, they will be charting a radical new course for the island and possibly violating the Trust Policy Statement.
As I have argued before, among some excellent proposals by housing groups is a very dangerous one with the potential to transform not just this island but also others in the Trust Area: the widespread use of amenity zoning to “conserve” parts of larger acreages while using the remainder for “eco-villages.”
In the 1998 OCP, the limit for extra dwellings under the density bonus system was set at 100 for the entire island. In 2008, that number was reduced to just 40, probably in recognition of how risky it is to offer financial incentives (extra densities) for an amenity. And now, if the statements of a prominent housing advocate are to be believed, there is a need for “many thousands” of new lots or dwellings.
As the OCP review process unfolds, we should pay special attention to two red flag numbers: the maximum number of new dwellings allowed through bonus density deals, and the total population projection. Since no OCP is written in stone, we should also watch for any public hearings involving bonus density deals, especially on rural land, and attend in person to give feedback on this pivotal issue.
Because the OCP review is being done incrementally, and in light of the sensitive and highly charged nature of the housing debate, I suggest the Trust send a detailed questionnaire to every household outlining strategies for dealing with growth, people pressure and the climate crisis, all while emphasizing the limitations of living in a protected area. The OCP discussion must go beyond the housing issue and delve into the broader philosophical question of what we hope the island will look like long after we are gone.