The Tricky Issue of Bylaw Enforcement: Trustee Laura Patrick Shares her Perspective
Last Friday, 13 attended the ASK Salt Spring gathering under the apple tree in the United Church Meadow, welcoming Islands Trustee Laura Patrick. Laura’s comments were her own and not representing the Local Trust Committee. The discussion began with a question about regulating Short-Term Vacation Rentals (STVRs). Laura believes that chairing the Local Trust Committees on Saturna and Pender Islands has given her the opportunity to see other models of addressing the issues of vacation rentals.
While she did not propose any solutions, she did offer some observations. For example, if STVRs were “registered” or “licensed” in some way, there would be the ability to regulate them. This could also allow for limiting the number of available units (for example Tofino). While rules around STVRs are being proactively enforced, it is an endless battle: for every illegal one that is closed, more pop up. This constant need for enforcement, with the potential of escalating legal cases, is extremely expensive and simply not effective.
Bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) are legal on Salt Spring, categorized as home based businesses, but, if located in a cottage, they are not allowed to use the kitchen. In Laura’s opinion, this is a “silly” and very challenging rule. On some other islands, through regulation, seasonal cottages are also considered STVRs and home-based businesses. When it was noted by a participant that there is a trend globally to make STVRs illegal to combat the widespread shortage of rental housing, Laura reiterated that she was not arguing for legalizing STVRs, but that some regulation and oversight could be an option. If we did require registration of STVRs across the Southern Gulf islands, vacation rental websites, like Air B&B, could be asked to only advertise registered STVRs.
Both North Pender and Saturna issue Temporary Use Permits to STVRs. Before a Temporary Use Permit is issued, neighbors are consulted. In order for permits to be renewed, applicants must prove they met permit conditions. Creating STVR regulations would require the LTC to make it a priority project. Until then, proactive enforcement against STVRs will continue
Concerning Temporary Use Permits, they offer the Islands Trust an opportunity to impose regulation. When a use takes place that complies with the zoning, there is little that Islands Trust can do to regulate them. If a Temporary Use Permit were given (temporarily allowing a non-zoned activity) at least the Islands Trust could impose specific requirements that must be adhered to before the up to three-year Temporary Use Permit could be either be renewed or applied for again.
What if Temporary Use Permit regulations are not followed? Is this just another of the many difficult-to-enforce bylaw infraction issues? According to Laura, Trustees can withhold permit renewal if the applicant did not comply with permit conditions.
It was asked: What can we do about the propensity of so many trailers being used for businesses as well as residences and their unsightliness in our community? Will Bylaw 471 make this problem even worse? Before discussing Bylaw 471 and the legality of these trailers and tiny homes, we were reminded by a participant that many of them - despite being ugly to some - are the homes of our community members. Maybe providing housing is more important than the visual problems some create; maybe we should find places for unsightly temporary housing that does not negatively impact the visual attractiveness of our community. And, again, we found ourselves circling back to the on-going problem of the scarcity of adequate housing for our workers.
Bylaw 471 would allow a cottage or suite to be used under a Temporary Use Permit, theoretically allowing more properties to rent legally. As drafted, this bylaw would consider offering Temporary Use Permits to trailers and tiny homes. Laura has met with the new manager of CRD Building Inspections in Victoria, Mike Taylor, to discuss trailers and tiny homes. According to CRD, tiny homes on wheels cannot get a building permit. (It is not the “tiny home” designation that is the problem, per se, but the wheels that create the stumbling block, largely due to earthquake considerations. One simply cannot get a building permit for something that is not fixed to a foundation.
This led back to the discussion of bylaw enforcement and the propensity of Salt Springers to “ask forgiveness rather than permission,” and when told that they are out of compliance, ignore the citation, confident that going to court for resolution is an expense that the Islands Trust is not willing to take. Unfortunately, even when cited by the bylaw officer, there is seldom a required deadline for addressing the problem. As a result, some cases drag on for many years, the offender simply asking the bylaw officer for more time over and over again. However, bylaw enforcement practices are improving.
One participant, a builder who believes in the permitting process, spoke of the flexibility of Islands Trust when approached with a problem He cited the example of Murakami Gardens. The conversion of the old fish factory into affordable housing hit a snag when there was simply not enough property to provide the required number of parking spaces. A compromise was reached allowing Murakami Gardens to be built with far fewer parking spaces than were normally-required.
With this example of the success of Islands Trust working with applicants to craft an agreement that works for all, this participant was disturbed that so many on Salt Spring continue to ignore the process, breaking the law without apparent consequences.
We learned that Trust Council is considering adding resources to bylaw enforcement. Laura said that she wants to see reciprocal increases to education and communication to reduce the need for bylaw enforcement. Increasing our bylaw enforcement team is difficult for a variety of reasons beyond budgetary limitations: It is hard for officers to find housing on Salt Spring. Added to this is the difficulty of living in a community in which you are an enforcement officer, always vulnerable to being confronted by an angry recipient of enforcement even while grocery shopping.
And, too soon, it was 1:00 and this ASK Salt Spring gathering dispersed, some helping fold and store the chairs while others continued the conversation with Laura or among themselves. Once again, we learned so much (thanks, Laura!) some of us committing to return next week to try to figure out how to implement the soon to-be-released Climate Action Plan 2.0.