Letter: Public Hearing for Gabriola Housing Review

Tuesday, November 14 2017

The public hearing for the Gabriola Housing Options Review project is rapidly approaching and, just by looking at the ads for it, the average Gabriolan would get a very narrow view of what’s being proposed. The most innocuous change is highlighted and those most likely to have a significant impact aren’t even mentioned. 

In the interest of informed involvement, here are three things about the proposed changes that I feel residents should be aware of.

For starters, if you have a five-acre residential lot, building a cottage/secondary suite will now require a covenant with a clause that restricts the property to only two residences. This may seem innocuous now, but if the general zoning changes in the future to allow more than two residences on five-acre lots, any landowner with one of these covenants in place would need to apply to have the covenant removed in order to benefit from the change. 

Secondly, the proposal includes permitting kitchens in all buildings accessory to residential use (3 accessory buildings allowed per lot). This proposed change is easy to have missed as it wasn’t even included in the public survey.

This change has far-reaching implications, and it would be one thing if this was being transparently proposed as a possible way to increase available rentals. Then we could discuss it openly, look at the pros and cons, and decide whether this is the best way to accomplish that goal. Unfortunately, it’s not being proposed that way at all.

The only rationale given for allowing kitchens in all accessory buildings is that the Home Occupation regulations allow businesses that require kitchens. Which begs the question, if commercial kitchens are the reason for this change, then why not tailor the change to allow only commercial kitchens?

All that’s required would be to add the word “commercial “in front of “kitchen” and define it as a kitchen for commercial use approved by the Health authority. Even allowing kitchens in only one accessory building per parcel would be more reasonable for the stated goal than what’s being proposed. 

It’s also worth noting that this change doesn’t seem to have been driven by public input -- I couldn’t find any mention of removing the prohibition to kitchens specifically in any of the input received. A few members of the pubic asked that the clause prohibiting bathrooms be removed, but no one specifically mentioned kitchens. 

This points to the distinct possibility that this proposed change is part of the Housing Options Review because it enables the development of more units (albeit illegal and most likely not to code) and not for the ostensible reason of accommodating the few home occupations needing commercial kitchens in accessory buildings. 

The third proposed change I’d like to mention is the change to allowable units on ALR land. 

Under the current regulations, three residences are allowed: main house, secondary suite in the main house and a manufactured home. The proposed change adds a new option for a carriage house in lieu of a manufactured home. 

Throughout the review, details on changes allowing a new carriage house option on ALR parcels have been few. It has been asserted that there is no increase in density since the number of allowable residences remains the same, but that is a simplistic view; there are more factors in play here. 

The manufactured home is a temporary density restricted to use by immediate family. It requires the registration of a covenant and depends on the parcel being used as a farm. The proposed change will allow a carriage house, and will not require any covenant or even require that the parcel be used for farming. This option would be an unrestricted permanent density completely unrelated to farm use.

The impact of the two options is clearly not equal. The take-up on a “no strings attached” permanent carriage house rental is bound to be different than a restricted, temporary manufactured home to support the needs of a working farm. 

The stated rationale for adding this option to every ALR parcel on Gabriola is that there are some young people on this island who love to farm but can’t afford farmland. 

The problem is that not all ALR parcels are being used as farms; the majority are simply residential properties. By the same token, not all parcels being farmed are in the ALR. There are dozens of properties not in the ALR that are being farmed commercially and have farm status, and this proposal will not apply to them. 

I’m sure there are some young people on this island who love to farm but can’t afford farmland but how does that justify allowing hundreds more dwellings on the ALR parcels that are being used strictly for residential purposes? 

I would suggest that the rationale has less to do with farming than with simply creating more housing units. If that’s the case then why not be forthright about it and let us really discuss, as a community, whether we think this is the best place and best way to create these units.

The approach being undertaken here has been referred to as “picking the low-hanging fruit” because it allows an increase in permanent residences without having to come out and admit that’s what is being done. There is no doubt the new option has the potential to substantially increase the number of secondary suites from what is currently allowed, and it’s hard not to resent the allegation that this change will involve “no increase in density” as there’s just no equating an unappealing temporary option with a no-strings-attached permanent option. 

In my opinion this is not transparent government. If the trustees don’t like the prohibition on density increases in the OCP they should undertake a review of those policies and take it to the public rather than obfuscating and trying to increase density through the back door. 

The public hearing is on the November 16. If you have any concerns about these changes, now is the time to make them known.

~ Gisele Rudischer