132 New “Real World” Residential Densities for Some Landowners

Tuesday, July 11 2017

If the proposed housing review Bylaw 293 is passed there will be a lot of happy Agricultural Land Reserve landowners and some disgruntled Residential landowners. Why? Because ALR landowners on parcels 2 ha (4.94 acres) or larger will now be allowed to build two secondary dwellings: one in the main home and one above an accessory building (carriage house).

The rationale for this change is that the ALR regulations have changed to allow a residence above an accessory building as an alternative to installing a manufactured home (restricted to immediate family or farm employees) if the parcel is operating as a farm (Farm Status). 

Installing a manufactured home on ALR land has been allowed in our bylaws for a few years, but covenants and permission from the Agricultural Land Commission are required in addition to Farm Status. As far as I know none have yet been installed.

Proposed Bylaw 293 would allow a market rental carriage house as an alternative, without the requirement that the parcel be a farm.

On Gabriola, there are 132 lots 2 ha or larger in the ALR. I would guess that the majority of these are not operating farms. There is no discernible difference between a 2 ha parcel in the ALR that isn’t operating as a farm and a 2ha parcel zoned Residential. Both are currently allowed 1 accessory residential use; a secondary suite on the Agricultural zoned ALR, and a cottage on the Residential.

If Bylaw 293 is adopted, Residential landowners who want to build an accessory residence -- including what is now known as a cottage -- will need to sign a covenant restricting their parcels to two dwellings (including the principal dwelling) regardless of what changes may be made to the bylaws in the future.

I have nothing but respect for Gabriola’s farmers, but I see no reason why ALR parcels that are not farms and are used only for residential purposes should be allowed 2 accessory dwellings when Residential properties of the same size are allowed only one. 

Given that the manufactured home option has proven not to be viable, the carriage house option will essentially mean an increase of 1 residential density per parcel over 132 parcels. Meanwhile, 2ha Residential landowners will need to sign a covenant to realize the same density that they have now. It seems unfair to me.

There’s something else I think is unfair. The choice offered by the ALR is a carriage house or a manufactured home; in effect, a market rental (a rental that can be priced at whatever the market will bear; not affordable housing) as opposed to an undesirable eyesore. This is a “real world” desirable density not a theoretical density no one is ever likely to develop. This wasn’t the choice as presented to the community. The public was asked if we supported a carriage house IN LIEU of a secondary suite in the main residence, but the secondary suite in the main dwelling is already allowed. The carriage house is not an alternative to a secondary suite in the main dwelling, it’s in addition to. This is not the same thing at all.

There was no mention of the manufactured home option that’s never been utilized, and until the Community Information meeting last month we were led to believe that the change proposed was consistent with the ALR regulations when it was not. It was also never made clear that local government bylaws do not have to comply or agree with ALR regulations. These uses are only allowed if the local bylaws allow them.

The question posed in the Project Charters, the survey last summer, and the presentation in December all posed the question as a choice between a secondary suite in the principal dwelling or a secondary suite above an accessory building. Even the referral agencies received a version of the bylaw that posed the question differently than what’s in the final version of the bylaw. This is not an equal exchange of residential density. It’s a market alternative to a less attractive, farm-centric option that was quite clearly never going to be realized.

In effect, this is a no-strings attached density give-away to ALR landowners. It has nothing to do with farms, farmworkers or farmers’ families. I’m sure residents didn’t know they were being asked if they favoured 132 new residential densities scattered across the island. Why propose this when a number of community groups, including the Village Vision group, the Chamber of Commerce and the Gabriola Housing Society have all expressed a desire for increased density to be located in the village? It doesn’t make sense from a climate change perspective either.

I think residents should have been directly asked if they wanted to create 132 new residential densities and if so where they wanted these located. Where’s the transparency?

I don’t deny there’s currently a real shortage of rental housing, but I suspect that the LTC wants to create rental housing opportunities so desperately that they have undertaken to do so even if it’s indiscriminately located, makes no sense in terms of climate change, favours one type of landowner over others, and is the result of a public process that can only be described – at best – as flawed.

~ Gisele Rudischer