As almost everyone on Salt Spring is now aware, major changes regarding land use are afoot. What they may not realize is that due process has been abandoned.
The most recent land-use controversy involves proposed Bylaw 530 which seeks to rezone thousands of lots to allow for year-round suites and cottages (Accessory Dwelling Units). We do not know exactly how many lots are involved because the Islands Trust has yet to release that information, but we do know the bylaw will blanket rezone most of the island.
By any measure, the bylaw represents a major change that will determine how the island looks in the future. This raises a question of legality. Where is the amendment to our Official Community Plan (OCP) that must accompany such a radical change--the extra paperwork that would force a discussion about, not just short-term objectives, but long-term consequences?
Bylaw 530 will violate several parts of our OCP, especially the one limiting the island’s population to “a little over 17,000.” How can that be allowed given the Islands Trust has checks in place to ensure local bylaws agree with the OCP? Is it so proponents can downplay the significance of the whole thing?
Adding thousands of people to Salt Spring’s build-out population (when all lots are fully subdivided and developed) surely warrants an OCP amendment and extensive public consultation. What about settlement patterns, limited resources and a major report indicating development is already unsustainable?
Despite guidelines recommending a review every 5 years, Salt Spring’s OCP has not been reviewed since it was adopted 14 years ago. Without such a review, broad discussions about the future of the island are suppressed and discord ensues. That’s what’s happening now.
Last year, trustees abandoned a review of our OCP in favour of a fragmented approach covering a Ganges Village Planning, protection of Coastal Douglas-fir zones, and a Housing Action Program. The results, especially with regard to housing, have been disastrous.
Housing questionnaires have been conducted, but the questions were presented out of context, without discussion of the downsides, OCP requirements, and our responsibilities as a member of the Islands Trust federation. Whoever designed the questionnaires, set respondents free in the candy store without discussing the price to be paid.
Rather than follow set procedure, trustees have let the debate unfold in the media, and, not surprisingly, it has turned ugly, with accusations from housing advocates that anyone who objects to their agenda is “afraid of change”, “elitist”, “privileged”, requiring therapy, or incapable of understanding “complexities and nuances.”
There is no guarantee any of the thousands of new dwellings allowed by Bylaw 530 will go to long-term rentals or be affordable. The initial idea of imposing covenants or housing agreements has been dropped. Rather than helping to meet housing needs, the bylaw will likely result in even more B&Bs, illegal STVRs, and other unauthorized structures.
Studies cited by trustees and others showing little uptake cannot be applied to the Trust Area as they contain no long-term data. In their scramble to provide more housing, trustees have forgotten their obligation to future generations of British Columbians.
Please write to our trustees at email@example.com to ask that major decisions regarding land use be deferred until our OCP has been reviewed and a new vision for the future has been developed through consultation with island residents, the Province and First Nations. Or speak to the bylaw at 4 pm on August 18 when the Local Trust Committee meets at Harbour House.