Planning Commission noncommittal on proposed dog-sitting bylaws

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, March 1 2016

The Gabriola Advisory Planning Commission (APC) members all took issue with the proposed Islands Trust dog sitting bylaws at their meeting this past Thursday.

None of them though made any specific recommendations either for or against it the proposal.

At the core of the APC members’ issues were the number of conditions that would have to align in order for an applicant to get a temporary-use-permit (TUP) approved.

The Gabriola Local Trust Committee (LTC) had asked the APC to comment on the proposed bylaws.

Currently, the LTC is proposing dog-sitting be allowed on lots zoned Small Rural Residential through the Temporary Use Permit.

Under the Gabriola Land Use Bylaw and Official Community Plan, dog sitting is not officially defined, but kennels can only operate on Large Rural Residential (LRR) properties which are over 5 acres in size.

While much of the language in the proposed TUP bylaws comes from that used for home occupations, as staff explained, dog-sitting is being intentionally set up as an exception to the rules.

Planner Sonja Zupanec said the two of the other options are to have it put in as an approved home occupation; or to do nothing and leave the regulations as they stand with dog sitting only allowed on LRR properties over 5 acres.

Bob Andrew opened the discussion saying that putting this in as a TUP gives people the best opportunity to try and see if it works. A TUP requires neighbours be given a chance to comment. It also gives the applicant a chance to provide neighbours and the Trustees with a plan on what will be done to mitigate impacts on neighbours

With a TUP, every property where someone wishes to run a dog-sitting business would need to go through a TUP application - which would cost the applicant approximately $900 and take an average of 15 hours of staff time on top of any public hearings or meetings with Trustees and the applicants.

If it was listed under home occupation, dog sitting would be allowed on every residential lot on Gabriola.

APC member Megan Walker said, “The advantage I see with the TUP is it allows a process to look at this on a case by case bass. If you have a set of neighbours who are ok with it, and you meet the criteria, and you pay the $900, and you accept it is temporary - you are taking all of that on. That’s the only reason to move forward with this. I personally wouldn’t go for this myself.

“At least this puts it on the applicant to figure out if this is worth going through it.”

APC member Kees Langeries and other members said they were not in favour of the TUP, or of allowing dog sitting on small lots, as no matter what the closer neighbours might say, in a subdivision made up of small lots, there’s always going to be complaints, and bylaw enforcement is going to be having to deal with the issue on a constant basis.

“The exception,” said Langeries, “might be where you have an isolated small lot, surrounded by large acreages.

“But in a small subdivision, say like Whalebone, I don’t think it will work. I’m not in favour of it.”

APC member Anne Landry said she was torn, as the TUP seems to be the reasonable way to go, but there are a lot of steps an applicant will have to tak.

“I think there is a need [for dog sitting]...I support the idea of people doing home based business, there’s only so many ways to make money on the island.

“I think if someone can make their way through the process, the onus is on them, there are a lot of steps...It is complicated, but is the complexity enough to take it off the table or not?

“Or do you let individuals who feel the need and want to make money that way to at least try and see if you can frame it up to allow them to move ahead?”

APC Chair Madeleine Ani said she didn’t want, “to prevent people from making a living, but I share the concern of lots being too small to avoid making noise. 

“If your dog starts, the other [neighbour] dogs start, its like living in the middle of a dog bowl.”

“I do think there are underground dog sitting operations going that are not advertised that are going to continue whether this goes through or not.”

Andrew pointed out, “if you went around and the neighbours all said it was fine, why would you go through the TUP process?”

Staff were asked how much the neighours’ input has in the TUP gaining approval.

Zupanec said input is subjective, and is only one part of what the Trustees will consider. At the end of the day, “it doesn’t matter if everyone opposes this, the LTC has the right to make this call. Even if everyone supports the application - the LTC might decide this isn’t supportable.”

Landry said she wouldn’t want to discourage someone from putting forward their business. “We wouldn’t be here in the room if it wasn’t being considered.”

APC member Jim Prunty said, “if I was starting a business, [the TUP] would scare me off. And then of course you pay a lot of money, and you have to meet a lot of regulations, and maybe that’s why there are these nice quiet [underground] ones.”

In trying to come up with recommendations, the APC members were of two minds.

Andrew said he didn’t believe trying to put in regulations to allow dog sitting was a good idea.

“I do think this happens in a more underground fashion. It certainly works on a smaller non-commercial way. I guess I have a reluctance towards bureaucratizing and commercializing things in general, and it seems to me that if Gabriola has commercial permitting of dog care, there is one more set of rules and regulations everyone has to follow. 

“I like the idea that we’re open and freer with our way of dealing with such things than to make it a bureaucratized system. It hasn’t worked for everyone, but it could be taken care of in a more Gabriola fashion.”

APC member Stuart Denholm said he would echo the same thoughts.

APC member Jim Prunty said he believed the process was going to end up being so complicated, it is going to be an uphill battle to make it any kind of success.

Walker said she was leaning in the same direction as the previous members, saying, “if your neighbours are in support, you’re not going to bother with this. If they are not in support and it’s a small lot, I don’t see how you are going to meet the conditions of the permit, especially the noise ones. 

“That said, this allows the applicant to have a shot at it and see if they can make it work. It is up to the LTC to make that judgement call. I’m uncomfortable with the bureaucracy that is going to come down to one or two cases. It is a legitimate business, I feel for the people trying to operate it.”

Langereis said he was in the same situation, that in the end, this would not work.“It’s going to be a hassle. If the neighbours are in agreement, you don’t need this permit, they aren’t going to complain.”

He said with the neighbours not having more definitive say over to approve or not approve the TUP, “it is a crap shoot depending on the Trustees. There are no guidelines around the neighbours’ concerns.”

Landry said, “I have concerns, but I think at the end of the day, I am willing to give the opportunity if people are willing to go through the hoops where they have to, I think it’s worth moving the process forward.”

Ani said, “all my concerns were expressed.”

The recomendation made to the LTC was for the Trustees to review the minutes of the APC meeting, especially the concluding statements.