Sunday, May 19, 2024
May 19, 2024

Guest column: Where might WHUs be built on Salt Spring?

By ERIC BOOTH

Third in a series

In Parts 1 and 2, I looked at the magnitude of the housing crisis, and, the challenges of densifying Ganges, both of which beg the question: “If not Ganges . . . then where?”

Salt Spring has thousands of acres of residential, rural and rural upland zoned property. Current residential zoning, on average, allows for four principal dwellings per acre, rural zoning allows for one per five acres, while rural upland is restricted to one per 20 acres.

It is clear from our requirements for workforce housing units (WHUs) that areas of Salt Spring, other than Ganges, need to be densified if we are going to solve the crisis. And, unless that densification occurs in a “blanket-wide rezoning” it will be doomed to the proverbial “death by a thousand paper cuts” due to NIMBYism.

Our island’s official community plan (OCP) supports the “redirect[ion] of the island’s future pattern of settlement from one of ‘modest overall density’ to one that includes clusters of development interspersed with large areas of open space, protected areas and resource lands.”

Designs of development “that reduce road construction and encourage non-automotive travel . . . [and] . . . proposals that cluster development . . . in about 20-30 per cent of the parcel . . . provide internal walking or bicycling routes, and recognize existing public transit routes are especially encouraged.”

Thus, one of the solutions already supported in the OCP is the rezoning of residential, rural and/or rural upland property to a higher density.

Unfortunately, in the last OCP review (2008), and in spite of the 2005 housing report I had spearheaded (tinyurl.com/mru7jvbj), neither the magnitude or the economics of the housing crisis were contemplated and, as a result, only broad brush strokes of potential solutions were painted.

Logically, development can only occur where there is sufficient space and services available. Using the OCP’s clustering recommendation, the following is one example scenario of increasing density on a rezoned, rural upland, 20-acre property:

A non-profit organization purchases the property with an existing home for $1,500,000. A clustered building strata project is planned with 19 WHUs on three acres, the principal residence on 10 acres, and seven acres of common green space/garden areas. When the project is complete, the 10 acres with the principal residence are sold back onto the market for $1,500,000, which means the basic land cost for the 19 WHUs is near zero. This means the price at which the WHUs could be sold is the cost of construction/development. At a $400-per-square-foot cost, a 1,000-square-foot WHU could be provided to a qualified worker for $400,000, while a 600-square-foot apartment would be $240,000. 

That simplified example underlines the importance of reducing land costs per unit to make WHUs affordable.

I am sure the first knee-jerk reaction to densifying rural areas of the island for WHUs will be met with the challenge of servicing issues, such as water, septic, roads, hydro, etc.

And so, in Part 4 of this housing crisis series — How WHUs Can Be Serviced — we will look at those challenges.

Eric Booth is a long-time Salt Spring resident and island realtor. The above is the third piece in a series.

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