Gabriolans support secondary suites in lieu of accessory cottages on lots over two hectares

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, October 25 2016

There appears to be widespread support for changes to be made to the Gabriola Land Use Bylaw, supporting the concept of “tiny homes,” as well as allowing secondary suites in lieu of accessory cottages where accessory cottages are legal.

That, according to the preliminary results of the Gabriola Housing Survey, as presented to the Gabriola Local Trust Committee (LTC).

The housing survey was conducted last month by way of a printed version distributed in the Sounder and an online version though the Islands Trust website.

Over 400 responses were turned in, according to planner Sonja Zupanec – 71 per cent of the respondents own a home on Gabriola which is their primary residence.

As Zupanec explained to the LTC, this is part of a larger project where the Trust is seeking to address housing concerns on Gabriola.

The project is broken down into “lower hanging fruit” which will look for potential solutions within the existing framework - and longer term might look to other changes to be made which require more substantial changes to the Gabriola Official Community Plan (OCP) as well as to the Land Use Bylaw (LUB).

The first stage - the lower hanging fruit - looked at two sections of the LUB and asked islanders if changes should be considered.

The first was the regulation which allows for an RV, travel trailer, or custom-built tiny home to be used as a dwelling on a lot while the primary building is being constructed. Currently, the RV can only be used for a maximum of two years, and there must be an active Regional District of Nanaimo building permit in place.

The LTC, through the survey, asked islanders if there was support to amend the bylaw to permit permanent use of the aforementioned structures as dwellings on lots where single-family dwelling use is permitted:

• 418 answers were received, with 58 per cent of respondents saying yes to either a principal dwelling or an accessory cottage.

• 12 per cent said yes, but only as an accessory cottage (meaning a primary dwelling would still need to be built).

• 24 per cent said no, leave the regulations as they are, and five per cent had other answers.

Those supporting the change added in comments saying they did not want to see such structures being used as short-term vacation rentals, and wanted to be assured proper building code regulations are followed as well as appropriate water/septic systems installed.

Other comments said they would support the change, but only for tiny homes and not travel trailers/RVs.

Tiny homes are custom homes less than 300 square feet, built on a moveable chassis/trailer.

With regard to the secondary suites, Zupanec said there are a number of islanders who are not aware that the option already exists for owners of properties in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) to construct secondary suites in lieu of accessory cottages. In the housing survey, the LTC was asking islanders if they would be in favour of allowing secondary suites to be built in lieu of accessory cottages on properties which are over two hectares (4.95 acres) in size.

Islander responses were 83 per cent in favour of allowing such a change when there was a limit of 700 square feet on the suite.

Islanders were 84 per cent in favour of allowing the secondary suite to be built over an existing accessory building (detached garage, shed, barn, et cetera).

Eighty-five per cent said the same should be allowed for properties in the ALR (currently, secondary suites are only legal within the primary dwelling).

When it came to the allowable size of the suite over an accessory building, islanders were less clear:

• 20 per cent wanted to have the 700 square feet of the theoretical cottage maintained.

• 38.9 per cent wanted the suite to be up to a maximum of 968 square feet of floor area - the maximum size for secondary suites in the BC Building Code.

• 11 per cent were in favour of allowing 1,615 square feet, which is the maximum floor space for home occupation on lots of two hectares.

• 22 per cent said there should be no limit placed on the size of the suite.

For readers looking for a response as to whether any kind of accessory cottage or secondary suite should be allowed on properties less than two hectares in size, the question was not asked in this particular survey.

Identified by staff, trustees and many respondents to the survey as being something that would increase density on the island, such a change would require much more community consultation, as well as major changes to the Gabriola OCP and LUB - something the trustees were not looking at as part of this first stage to the housing project.

That being said, there were a number of general comments provided to the trustees in the housing survey which were either for or against such a move.

Those in favour of allowing secondary suites on lots less than two hectares said that whether there is a suite or not, as long as a building’s septic system is built to handle the size of the overall dwelling, should be the determining factor.

As one respondent put it, “The number of people is more important than the number of buildings.”

Those against allowing secondary suites on lots under two hectares were clear in saying that doing so would increase Gabriola’s density.

The next meeting of the Gabriola Local Trust Committee is november 10 at 10:15am at the Arts Centre.