Island Trustees looking at two-phase approach to housing review project

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, July 26 2016

The Gabriola Local Trust Committee will be taking on the first of a two-phase housing review project to commence July 2016.

The first phase, now formally adopted by the Trustees this past Thursday, will see the Trust staff look at where there are provisions or possibilities within the existing Official Community Plan (OCP) and Land-Use Bylaw (LUB) to create affordable housing possibilities on Gabriola.

Planner Sonja Zupanec said one example would be looking at allowing accessory cottages in lieu of secondary suites on lots larger than 2.0 ha. (Such a change might need an adjustment to the OCP, but it would not be a substantive change, in that the cottages are already permitted.) 

The second phase, slated to take place in fiscal 2017/18, will conduct a thorough review and update of the 2009 Gabriola Housing Needs Assessment (HNA) based on 2016 census data results and community engagement.

Phase 2 will then use the HNA results to identify gaps in the housing stock on Gabriola and develop a targeted review of relevant OCP policies and LUB regulations to promote the desired housing profile for Gabriola Island.

A key difference between what can be accomplished in Phase 1 and Phase 2 is how substantive the changes to the island regulations would need to be.

As Zupanec said, the concern without an updated needs assessment is that the Trust does not know if there are enough lots to have new provisions.

“That’s not fair to do at this stage. So for Phase 1, we stick to what we have for providing the community with options.”

Another change being looked at for Phase 1 would be allowing “tiny homes” to be permitted on vacant lots. 

Currently, an RV or other home on a chassis cannot be used as a home without a building permit.

Reviewing that policy, opening it to allow so-called tiny homes, could increase the options for people who can afford the empty lot to look at alternative housing options for that property.

Zupanec said there is a “dire need to formally address the statistical data for affordable housing. The 2009 HNA is potentially not as thorough as planners would like it to be for housing options. 

“2016 is a census year, we are expecting a robust answer from the 2016 census, the timing [for Phase 2] is good to have and there is an opportunity to take that data and kick-start the housing issue.

“Determine what the Phase 2 project actually looks like.”

Trustee Heather O’Sullivan said she was torn in that seeing the potential project charter made it more manageable, “however, the previous wording gave more scope for the APC to get creative when discussing it. 

“Limiting it to the 2.0 ha doesn’t require opening up the OCP and the LUB to the same extent that the previous version would.

“At the same time, limiting it to 2.0 ha or more is that it encourages densification in areas of large lots which tend to be further from the core, the ferry, the commercial areas, so that works against encouraging cluster development, doesn’t help us in our climate change goals, so I’m torn.”

Trustees also spoke about looking at policies currently in the OCP and LUB which could be reconsidered to allow for more creative building opportunities - still within the BC Building Code.

The long-standing prohibition on the use of shipping containers which are visible from outside the property was one such example.

A member of the public suggested, with agreement from the Trustees, that a revisiting of Bylaw 250 (prohibition of washroom facilities in accessory buildings) be put on the project.

As O’Sullivan said, in another life she works with New Society Publishers.

“All these books published on Gabriola about fabulous structures that we can’t build here.”