Wednesday, May 29, 2024
May 29, 2024

Viewpoint: Bylaw 530 urgency confounds

By ELISSA POOLE

Minks that slip inside a henhouse might kill 50 chickens, but only eat one. That’s overkill.

I’d also categorize Bylaw 530 as overkill. This proposal to rezone over 5,000 properties all over the island risks significant collateral damage—water shortages, higher property values, a surge in illegal short-term vacation rentals (STVRs) and an influx of newcomers who can afford the rents on additional dwelling units (ADUs) that will cost as much as $500 per square foot to build. And yet it’s expected to produce no more than a few long-term, affordable rentals.

Despite such specious comments as “we’ll all have to live with a smaller footprint,” the impact, over time, of more construction and an accompanying increase in the island’s population inevitably translates into a larger cumulative footprint, which is what the province was trying to avoid when it set Salt Spring aside, along with the other Gulf Islands, as an area to be protected for all of B.C. Our trustees can act as if the islands’ fragile ecosystems aren’t that rare or special, but most of us know they are, and that they’re at risk because we’re stomping all over them.

It’s understandable that many people who live here now have never read the Trust Policy Statement and may not be aware that protecting the island’s natural environment from excessive development was a guiding principle of Salt Spring’s Official Community Plan (OCP). A provision for capping Salt Spring’s population has been in the OCP for a long time. The Tsawout First Nation has also informed the Trust — twice — that it opposes Bylaw 530 because it feels the potential population increase threatens “the environmental stability of their traditional territory.”

As I write this, the Earth has just experienced its hottest month ever, B.C.’s wildfire season is the most destructive on record, and wells on Salt Spring are at record lows. But you’d never guess — given the shocking lack of data for how this bylaw might play out environmentally — that the Trust declared a climate emergency, or that it declared reconciliation with First Nations a priority—both of which would preclude passing Bylaw 530.

You have to ask why our trustees are so determined to get this bylaw passed in its most extreme form, without any checks and balances, when three previous bylaws, which opened up well over 2,000 properties for ADUs, have apparently had little success in creating affordable workers’ housing. Faster, more effective measures that would actually work exist, but they haven’t been adequately utilized: enforce STVR regulations; continue to pursue publicly funded, non-market housing alternatives; protect landlords as well as tenants with standardized rental agreements.

Why, when I walked into the public information meeting for Bylaw 530 in June, did the atmosphere remind me of a showroom for vacation timeshares? Is it because 75 per ent of ADUs usually end up as STVRs? It’s hard to trust the motives of public officials who repeatedly dismiss or disdain legitimate concerns about the lack of supporting data or a proposal’s long-term implications. That’s why I suspect Bylaw 530 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing — development masquerading as do-gooding.

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1 COMMENT

  1. An excellent summary of the inanity that Bylaw 530 represents – simply perhaps so that the elected trustees can say to their constituents, “We tried to so something about housing!” Yes, something completely ineffective and that has been the message they have received over and over again if only they were willing to hear it. If anyone has read UBC’s Chair of Landscape and Livable Environments Patrick Condon’s articles about affordable housing, they would understand that market housing, basically what Bylaw 530 supports, will not solve the housing problem. Market housing will just not be affordable. Adding the option of more density to a land parcel, whether urban or rural land, just increases the value of that land, fuelling speculation and making it every more impossible to build an affordable housing product since wages (or pensions) just can’t keep up. We are seeing it right now in every municipality that has increased lot density. Sure, more housing is being built but it is not affordable housing for middle to low income folks. The additional value of the new density is all to the benefit of the landowner. This is the developer’s A,B,Cs. The only solution is letting go of the dream that market housing and an increase in supply will be the fix, and instead getting governments to commit to a significant investment in buying land for non-market housing and subsidizing units according to income. It just may not be on the Gulf Islands. Bylaw 530 is basically a gift to landowners – an increase in their land value.

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