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  • Gayle Baker

Trustee Laura Patrick Envisions Crafting a Healthy Housing Balance for Salt Spring

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

August 21

Nine Salt Springers came to welcome Trustee Laura Patrick on a rainy August Friday. While this was an usually-low turnout, the rains and the winds whipping through the Portlock Picnic Pavilion go a long way towards explaining the smaller-than-usual group of participants.

Did they ever miss a great discussion!

Much of this discussion centred on housing and the imperative for our community to do the work necessary to guide us toward the future we need and deserve. Without that vision, according to Laura, we will be hard-pressed to maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of housing on Salt Spring, including its ecological, climatic, and socioeconomic dimensions.

As an important step in this direction, Laura began by giving us some details about the Housing Working Group with which she has been working with since shortly before the pandemic. This group has written a report recommending a process for involving stakeholders and the community in an encompassing conversation about housing on Salt Spring.

These recommendations will be discussed at the next Islands Trust Local Trust Committee electronic meeting, September 1, 2020. The recommendations of the Housing Working Group report are on page 264 (item 14.8) of the Agenda Package: The recommendations outline a process of identifying the problem, forging agreement, creating a shared vision, and defining healthy housing that balances social, economic, and environmental considerations.

The report also includes a list of dozens of housing documents and studies, beginning as long ago as the 1990s. One hope is that this process will help us to understand why so many of the best suggestions in these reports have not been implemented.

The working group recommends two phases. The result of this first phase will be a prioritized action plan. It is to be created following a robust community engagement process that will build agreement on Salt Spring’s long term vision for housing a healthy community.

Laura spoke with passion and eloquence of the value and exciting potential of this project. Using terms such as the art of the possible, she gave us a glimpse of her hopes for a common vision powered by concepts such as eco-system based management. She also warned us that we must be creative, courageous, and willing to think outside the box to succeed.

The Housing Working Group’s proposed project uses phrases such as a High Energy Pivoting Body for the task force to guide phase 1, and an Integrated Solutions Board for phase 2. Recognizing that housing-related social, economic and environmental issues are beyond the capacity of any one organization, phase 2 will engage cross-sectoral partners to work collaboratively to develop and implement integrated solutions.

When the conversation moved to explore possible housing options, we learned about the concept of Ladder Housing in which folks move up the ladder of a range of available housing options from temporary shelters to rustic cabins, tiny homes, rental homes and, eventually, purchase of homes.

We spoke of the Wagon Wheel concept of a communal gathering place surrounded by tiny abodes. Laura introduced a similar concept that a Pender Islander is designing to house Pender students attending GISS. When asked how these housing options could be approved, Laura reminded us that the Local Trust Committee is considering Temporary Use Permits (TUP) for residential use (Bylaw 471). This tool might be effective for testing alternative housing projects.

What about density transfers? The current Official Community Plan allows for the transfer of development potential, known as “Density Transfer.” This is the ability to reduce development potential in one location and increase the development potential in another, with no overall increase in density. Because both a donor and receiving property are required, this mechanism has not been used much on Salt Spring. Could there be a more creative system of allowing a landowner to deposit the densities in a bank until they are needed? Laura hopes we can better utilize density transfer to both preserve and protect the island as well as creating more housing options.

Laura is committed to connecting the dots among the many intertwined components of our community, leading her to also spearhead the scoping and budgeting for a comprehensive Ganges Village Plan. While integrating seemingly disparate forces is critically important for Laura, the public hearing for Bylaw 512 (rental cottages) spurred her recent action. While opposition is not uncommon for draft bylaws, Laura was most concerned about the opposition that came from housing groups.

Following the hearing, Laura received Local Trust Committee support for the prosed Housing Working Group to advise them on the development and implementation of a housing planning project.

When asked whether we should/could cap our population, Laura responded that we need to work on reducing our footprint. Our land use decisions must be balanced, considering social, environmental, and economic elements – they must be founded in ecology and justice.

Other limiting factors were discussed such as water, roads, schools, and health facilities. Laura rubbed her hands together and said “Let’s get planning!”

Laura was asked if it is true that some Trustees from other islands are promoting Islands Trust policy amendments that include removing Section 5 - Sustainable Communities. She believes that there are some trustees that have a narrow view of the preserve and protect mandate. Laura interprets the mandate as one that supports healthy people, healthy society and healthy environment.

She did remind us that the Islands Trust policy statement does need to be revised as it does not contain any reference to First Nations or climate change.

The conversation shifted to Ganges Village Planning - another one of those dots being connected. Are we prepared for rising sea levels? Do we have the supporting infrastructure for a growing community? What is our future vision for the village? The Local Trust Committee has committed resources for the scoping and budgeting of this planning project. Expect to hear more about this project this fall.

On the theme of creative solutions that may have been overlooked, Laura spoke with enthusiasm of a grant application that had been submitted by Salt Spring Solutions. This application was for a solutions lab to help solve the complex housing problems related to water. While this exciting proposal did not get funded, Salt Spring Solutions has been invited to present the project proposal to the Salt Spring Island Watershed Protection Alliance at a September meeting.

As the discussion shifted to water, Laura agreed that there are many areas in which Salt Spring is stuck and that the North Salt Spring Water District’s moratorium is one of these instances. The moratorium is creating seemingly-unsurmountable hurdles to the development of affordable housing in our central village area where it is most needed.

We all agreed that rainwater harvesting has a huge role to play in housing and ecosystem protection. We were reminded that rainwater harvesting has often been a neglected opportunity in water resource management because only water from surface or groundwater sources is conventionally considered. Laura believes that regulatory agencies, including the Islands Trust, need to consider rainfall as an important manageable resource in water policies, strategies and plans.

As 1:00 approached, we learned that the composting project in the Burgoyne Valley is not dead and that many are involved in heroic efforts to get needed approvals so that it can be built and open for business. It is one clear example of how desperately we need a circle economy, one in which waste (both liquid as well as solid) is no longer trucked off-island and increasingly-fewer products are trucked here.

So - the gathering concluded - with grateful acknowledgment to Laura who is so willing to share her passion, enthusiasm and tenacity connecting all those dots of our complex island as well as listening to our questions and comments every month - rain or shine - at ASK Salt Spring. . . Thank-you!

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