Should the Islands Trust “Preserve and Protect the Environment, People and Culture” Mandate Apply to Housing?

Culture

Prior to the creation of the Salt Spring Island (SSI) Official Community Plan (OCP), there was a building culture that was diverse and showed preference for local materials. From the local timbers used at Moby’s, Grace Point, Barb’s Buns, Artspring, and Creekside, to the local stonework on the side of Thrifty’s, as columns in the high school, to the local rammed earth and cob, our local building artisans with support from clients and GCs, would think long and hard prior to hiring and buying off-island. Some of these pursuits continue today, although with more difficulty as SSI no longer has a Senior Building Inspector who can authorize unusual building assemblies. What’s been missing for me is expressing local culture in our buildings. It has been missing for so long that many people don’t even know what that means. Imagine if the contributions made to SSI by the early Hawaiians or black people or hippies, or greenies, or spiritual folk, or artists, or farmers or loggers were honored in our architecture. More importantly, shouldn’t it be super important to architecturally acknowledge the First Nations? It’s one thing to start off a public meeting with recognition, but what does it say when we completely ignore the First Nations in our architecture? I believe that in our OCP, all new buildings are required to express our culture. Certainly, in the Islands Trust mandate, it states that the Trust is to preserve and protect our varied and distinct culture. How do we then end up with architecture that has all the SSI culture of what one sees in Colwood or Langford? Are our Trustees dropping the ball by ignoring the diverse local culture they are mandated to preserve and protect?

People

At 8 yrs old, I was taught that Food, Clothing, and Shelter were the three things that people need to survive. It was presented as foundational knowledge, and I believed it to the point that it still lives in my point-of-view. I’m not discounting the non-physical essentials such as love, acceptance, and dignity. Food, Clothing, and Shelter still matter, and now I know that each one has a scale. How much food, how much clothing, and what kind of shelter do we as a community define as our minimum standard? Are we willing to see people starving in front of the Fire Hall? How about people dying from exposure due to inadequate clothing? I hope and trust that our community will ensure that neither of these happen. When it comes to housing standards, new houses are required to meet the BC Building Code. We have not set minimum standards with regards to food and clothing but new housing does have a bar (low as it may be). However, used housing has no bar. There is no maximum amount of mold, no minimum amount of fresh air, no fire resistance, no flooding resistance, no maximum amount of leakage in the roof, no maximum amount of dryrot, no maximum airborne fecal coliforms, no maximum rodents, ants, silverfish, spiders, or woodbugs. We may not be willing to see people starve or die of exposure, but where do we draw the line when it comes to housing? As the Islands Trust continues (15+ yrs) to kick the housing issue down the road, our rental housing stock continues to deteriorate in both quality and quantity. Is it not part of the Islands Trust mandate to Preserve and Protect nature, PEOPLE, and culture? Does preserve and protect, not apply to the renters and homeless on SSI?

People and Environment

SSI through the Capital Regional District (CRD) and Islands Trust, have taken no action to raise the minimum level of new housing. All that is required, is to meet the BC Building Code. There is no lower standard, and while some builders brag about building to the Code, if they built any less well it would be illegal. There are jurisdictions where the minimum has been set to: LEED, LEED Silver, LEED Gold, Energuide 84, and Passive House. Sadly, on SSI our CRD and Islands Trust are satisfied with the minimum. Is it not reasonable to expect a higher environmental building standard from a Preserve and Protect governance? Why are we in last place when it comes to caring about how our buildings impact the SSI environment and its people?

Environment

On SSI there exists a strong view that we need to cap the population in order to preserve the environment. The Islands Trust believes the way to do that is to limit the number of buildings, through zoning. The flaw in that approach is that it relies on a historic house density of 2.1 people per home, and a historic level of impacts on the environment from that one home. What if there was a mass migration out of the USA for political or environmental reasons, and many of those people were drawn to the gated (by ferries) community of SSI, willing to live at 5+ people/home? What if the consumption of water/lot doubled as people grew all their own food? My point is that capping the number of buildings to preserve and protect, relies on occupant numbers and traits that can vary wildly. At some point in the future, the 50,000 people living on SSI will wonder if today’s Islands Trust were delusional to think that population control is best done by limiting the number of buildings/lot.

If the core concern is the negative impacts of having more people on SSI, then let’s deal directly with that concern. It is entirely possible to have way more people on SSI and have dramatically reduced impacts, and here’s one way. Require all new homes to rainwater harvest, handle their own sewage, meet their own needs for electricity, and have no toxic (red list) materials. These requirements are all laid out in the Living Building Challenge and have been realized by the hundreds for over a decade now. Require all new homes to have a 220V electric car charging outlet. The average square footage of new homes built will likely drop a bit, but that’s also an environmental win. In a windstorm with the power out for days, these homes require no emergency attention, and could well be the places that neighbours go to, when their homes fail to keep them warm. People living in these homes are overall healthier and need less medical care. In the long view, the scope of the water districts becomes less and the community has abundant water. Our reliance on BC Hydro becomes far less and power outages become rare, and not such a big deal. The roads become quieter (due to more EV’s), and roadsides become healthier due to reduced exhaust. Is this not much more in line with the mandate of the Islands Trust? Does it really make sense to continue down this path of mitigating environmental and social impacts of increased population by trying to control the number of buildings/lot? Is the Islands Trust open to address the impacts of a growing population directly, or will they stick to their flawed status quo algorithm?

If housing is not included in Preserve and Protect, why not? If it is, then it seems like there is a failure in all three areas. The Islands Trust (excluding Laura Patrick) has failed to act to preserve and protect the people, the culture, and the environment when it comes to housing. And they seem not to be inclined to rectify the situation, content to kick the can down the road. If you would like to encourage the Trustees to do their job when it comes to housing, please email asap:

Emails should go to ssiinfo@islandstrust.bc.ca with a copy to all three trustees: pluckham@islandstrust.bc.ca; pgrove@islandstrust.bc.ca; lpatrick@islandstrust.bc.ca

Your letter is received as though it represents at least 100 people. If you want to make a difference to housing on SSI, this is how. Take the power. Do it now. Thank you!

October 2, 2020 10:58 AM

Community Comments

  • Avatar Brenda Guiled says:

    The Trust first needs to put in place limitations on excessive logging of Salt Spring increasingly rare Coastal Douglas-Fir-Garry Oak ecosystem. Adding more dwellings and density without this safeguard will keep the balance tipped in favour of wiping out the last of these precious ecosystems to serve human needs.

    It's easy to be so human-centric that we lose sight of how common people are -- nearly 8 billion of us and counting -- compared to how all wild life forms are suffering and dwindling to make way for us.

    North Saanich managed to pass a Tree-Protection By-Law, with permits required to remove trees: https://northsaanich.ca/wp-content/uploads/Tree-Protection-Bylaw-No-0935-Consolidated-Nov-2011. Surely the Trust can devise one suitable to its mandate.

    Then we can talk about how to fit 50,000 residents onto Salt Spring, with enough rainwater harvesting and treatment for all. Or maybe 170,000 population, inspired by the Channel Islands, which are 190 km2, pretty close to our 182 km2. Can we do it, while keeping our trees?

    Here's a look at forest-removal on SSI from 1984-2016: https://saltspringexchange.com/2016/12/03/time-lapse-salt-spring-island-1984-to-2016/.

  • Avatar w101 says:

    -The building code is directly tied to the financial institutions / insurance industry's underwriting of construction based on minimum standards developed over decades that provides that framework. This may be why it seems to take forever for new codes/outdated codes to evolve. So maybe the questions surrounding "minimum codes" starts with how it all gets underwritten, and how banks see "Culture" ?

  • Avatar Bill Cogswell says:

    Whenever you build something you destroy something else. The island is a finite system. How many people do you want to cram onto this island and how much are you willing to destroy to accomplish that? At some point the quality of life will fall to the wayside.

  • Avatar D Walford says:

    I couldn't agree more, Brenda. The logging taking place on public and private property alike is downright concerning. This year there have been two sites in particular on Beddis and Churchill (https://www.gulfislandsdriftwood.com/news/logging-noise-inflames-tension/) that really raise eyebrows about what the property owners might be planning. Clearcutting that much land seems like an obvious step toward trying to build large upscale developments, and I think imposing tree permits might serve as a helpful obstacle in that respect as well. It is time that people recognise the effects of forest removal do not end at the property line.

  • Avatar forest_dweller says:

    Meror,

    You ask “Does preserve and protect, not apply to the renters and homeless on SSI?”.

    What about the un-houseable population drawn here? People such as those will mental illness, committing vandalism? They are drawn in increasing numbers due to the mild climate and expanding social circle of their peers. The more accommodating we are, the more have arrived. We cannot keep up with the shelter needs of the nations homeless. You ask questions but propose no solution. Your contribution to the discussion is highly appreciated, but could you clarify what you were getting at with regards to homelessness?

    Also, with regards to architecture that acknowledged the First Nations, I would say that we should have a public building that makes a visual reference to the past, but must not lose the freedom to express own creative visions in our private residences.

    There is a beautiful longhouse-inspired building on Jackscrew Island that you would appreciate but we cannot all be expected to build like this. That said, we should be encouraged to use local materials when possible, and to build to a high standard.

    Water-catchment should not use plastic tanks. Would you agree? They have a limited life span and eventually degrade. They are made of petrochemicals and in the case of fire become especially toxic. Steel and ferrocement are alternatives. People gave captured and stored water since before the Romans without recourse to plastic. Let’s get back to healthy building and water storage materials.

  • Avatar Emma-Louise Elsey says:

    Dear Meror,

    I have only skimmed your article. It is the end of a long day.

    I also skimmed the comments, and wanted to let you know that you are not alone in your concerns about housing for the less fortunate, less wealthy and less privileged.

    I have already written in support of the housing body which Laura Patrick is involved in. And I wrote to the Driftwood, The Exchange, our local MP and the trustees themselves to draw attention to the fact that the recent report on feedback from islanders guiding the future of the Trust between now and 2050 was deeply flawed. In particular I believe these flaws led o affordable housing not being a priority... https://saltspringexchange.com/2020/08/14/opinion-concerns-about-islands-trust-consultation-and-direction/

    Sadly, there are many on this island who believe the environment and humans are an "either or" proposition, instead of looking at AND solutions: How can we both preserve the environment AND help our fellow humans?

    The polarising of important issues like these makes me sad.

    It's all too easy once we're comfortable financially to forget that others may not have had the same upbringing, education or encouragement. Some people have been in the right place at the right time - for example to make huge amounts of money on the sale of homes. And some are simply less lucky in their genes.

    We need some original thinking - and more compassion.