Hope for the Housing Challenges and Solutions Project
With rain predicted, nine hearty Salt Springers gathered to welcome Islands Trustee, Laura Patrick, as our special guest in the United Church Meadow. Other than gusty winds that blew over a few of the unoccupied chairs, the weather was practically-perfect for our last Friday in the Meadow for this season.
And it has been so good! Participants have clearly enjoyed our summer gatherings in the lovely Meadow - a welcome change from our spring of self-isolation and, for many, far too much Zooming about. We actually measured greater participation - average attendance has almost doubled during these summer months!
After a heartfelt acknowledgment of our journey of Reconciliation offered by a participant, the question about the Local Trust Committee’s (LTC’s) Housing Challenges and Solutions planning process began. Recently, the LTC adopted this planning process as a priority. While Laura was pleased that this is being made a priority, she cautioned that more support is needed as this planning process develops.
A key element of this planning initiative is robust community engagement to reinforce a vision for our island housing. Do we want our workforce to have to travel here each day on the ferry, or do we envision a diverse island community? Laura believes that islanders do share a common vision for a diverse and healthy community. However, there are misunderstandings or communication failures that are leading to uncertainty or mistrust. With community support and a shared vision, the LTC may take bold action.
It was asked, Haven’t we already done this? Laura responded that the last time that we held community visioning related to housing was over 14 years ago, which resulted in the 2007 Official Community Plan.
Several planning initiatives have been taken to either protect the environment or address affordable housing, but did they have the results that we anticipated?Sometimes addressing a problem can result in unintended consequences, while other actions have even created problems. As an example, Laura cited our zoning that drives large lot sizes. While initially focused on retaining Salt Spring’s rural charm, it has resulted in very expensive land prices and limited options for those without the wealth to buy these lots.
The goals for the Housing Challenges and Solutions project are to develop new policies and regulations that will increase the quality and quantity of housing options, coupled with a high level of preservation and protection of the island’s biodiversity and freshwater, marine, and forest resources. The full spectrum of housing policy is to be considered, from farms to denser villages, while discouraging carving up remaining swaths of forest for large homes.
Laura says the Housing Challenges and Solutions project is not just about our future, it is designed to move swiftly to create a prioritized action plan with immediate, as well as long term, actions. And, action is extremely important as the pandemic is resulting in a significant migration of people away from urban areas and toward rural areas that are serviced with good internet. . . like Salt Spring.
Phase 1 of the Housing Challenges and Solutions project is focused on land use tools that are within the Islands Trust’s sphere of influence. Phase 2 recognizes that housing-related social, economic and environmental issues are beyond the capacity of any one organization. Cross-sector partners must work collaboratively to develop and implement integrated solutions. A permanent, resourced community advisory body is needed to develop an integrated planning, policy development, and implementation strategy that considers both human and ecosystem needs.
When Laura was asked whether such a group already exists in the Housing Council, she replied that this may be the case, but that the Housing Council is unfunded and currently on hiatus. Phase 2 actions include looking at the governance and resources needed to sustain an advisory body.
Laura believes that a key distinction of the Housing Challenges and Solutions project from other initiatives is the application of adaptive management in decision-making. We must monitor the consequences of decisions and adopt a learning approach to planning. She cautioned that mistakes will be made; however, with good, measurable objectives and consistent evaluation, we can quickly correct our course of action.
Laura stated that she believes that the Islands Trust needs to work with residents to better define what it means to live, work and play in our rural island communities. When a rural island community has strong visions and values, developers can produce better proposals because they are designing their project to fit into the community. Otherwise, developers bring their own visions and values, and too often spurring residents to oppose their proposals. In other words, according to Laura, empowered communities play a leadership role in sustaining healthy ecosystems, cultures, and economies, helping elected representatives make more informed decisions.
This leads to the question – so how can the community get involved? It was observed that it is often the same people who come to public meetings. Laura agreed that this issue is a challenge - as well as a key component to success. She is concerned that too many residents are isolated from important community conversations and that this needs to change.
Salt Spring is rich with volunteers who are deeply involved and willing to commit enormous time and energy to making Salt Spring an even better place. How can we get young and diverse Salt Springers involved? The suggestion from the youngest participant (who turned 40 this week) is to reach out and engage people where they are located rather than expecting them to show up at more traditional venues such as meetings. And make it fun! More people are likely to participate if you speak their language. Laura was all thumbs up with these ideas!
We also briefly discussed the scavenger hunt that is necessary to obtain basic information on this island. Laura used the example of multiple groups seeking donations to support worthy causes having to compete with one another, which leaves potential donors confused. What about a central Salt Spring website that could act as a portal where one could get all the information they needed quickly and easily?
Laura was asked about Temporary Use Permits (TUPs), described in Part G of our Official Community Plan. Generally, TUPs are issued to allow a temporary use or commercial/industrial activity in a zone where it is not allowed. Draft Bylaw 471 would extend the use of TUPs to residential uses. An interesting benefit to a TUP is that the LTC can impose very specific guidelines to regulate the temporary use. When asked how the LTC can enforce these guidelines, Laura cited a recent TUP issued on North Pender. The applicant is required to submit an independently verified report demonstrating that the guidelines were adhered to before the TUP is renewed. So, according to Laura, TUPs can be powerful tools.
The conversation touched briefly upon Island Trust tools for monitoring Development Permits as well as concerns about bylaw enforcement, which is largely a complaint-driven system. We learned that the Local Trust Committee can direct proactive enforcement, a process of seeking infractions instead of waiting for complaints. The LTC is currently directing proactive enforcement on Short-Term Vacation Rentals (STVRs) that violate our regulations. The North Pender LTC, for example, is proactively enforcing its regulations on derelict vehicles. Laura firmly believes that better communication goes hand-in-hand with enforcement.
As 1:00 PM approached, Laura told us about a proposal that will be presented to the Salt Spring Island Water Preservation Alliance (SSIWPA) this week. SSIWPA will be asked to consider funding a Solutions Lab to address the question: How can we supply water for housing projects in Ganges? We learned that a Solutions Lab is a successful technique utilized to guide a community to break down barriers and think in new and innovative ways to address a problem. Laura is intrigued by this opportunity and sees its potential to address other complex challenges as well.
As we thanked Laura for her enthusiasm to be willing to tackle complex - and seemingly-unsolvable - issues as well as her tenacity to get the job done, we also celebrated the imminent opening of both Croftonbrook, Phase Two, and Salt Spring Commons. Savouring something to celebrate (as well as newly-painted lines and sidewalks/pathways nearing completion), we packed up our chairs, grabbed just another package of tiny cookies, and agreed to tell our friends to join us next week as Gary answers questions about our soon-to-be-adopted CRD Budget.
Interested in joining us? Come to the next ASK Salt Spring gathering at the Lions Hall (one-time location only) this coming Friday, October 23, 2020, from 11 a.m. -1 p.m., to welcome Gary Holman to explain the CRD Budget. (Masks may be required.)
All are welcome to ask questions, listen to those of others, and participate in lively conversations.
Social-distancing maintained and safely-made chocolate chip cookies provided; Bring your favourite beverage, curiosity, and a smile.
Prefer Zooming about? Gary will also answer your questions from 2:30-4:00 that same day, Friday, October 23 via Zoom. To join, please click:
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