Letter: Regarding proposed Changes to the ALR

Tuesday, October 24 2017

I have real concerns about Islands Trust’s new intention of changing the ALR zoning. Although I understand that many of our communities have a crisis of affordability for young and old potential buyers of housing, and that there is a lack of affordable long-term rentals here on the island and everywhere in the southwest of the province. But rezoning to increase a housing density by a factor of three? Those few ALR five-plus acre properties left do little or nothing to alleviate the crisis. It just further erodes the rural character of the island, which has just seen a major rezoning by this current Trust Committee. I think we have to deal with all the problems of housing and I realize that the Trust members are carrying the torch for social justice, or may think they are, but to me it seems like redistribution of land at the expense of those of us who live on ALR properties and would like the density in those areas, if not the whole island, kept at close to current levels. 

Having lived in communes, shared housing, in the backs of funky trucks, caravans and in picker’s shacks, I empathize with folks who can’t come up with the down payment on property, or who simply want to rent decent digs without having to be cast out into the wilderness when the owners come back for the summer. Ask any of the “old hippies” who have struggled to buy their “dream” properties, build their own homes and have worked jobs all over the province to make the monthly payments ahead of bank foreclosure, how hard it is to own and keep property, particularly here. And I know it is harder than it’s ever been to get in the game. But it is patently unfair to us who have bought into rural settings, and who want that neighbourhood to stay rural, to bear the brunt of rezoning. If the thought is to legitimize those trailers and outbuildings that are scattered throughout the ALR, some of which are “illegal” and house some of our fellow islanders, I say let’s do the process. Out of sight out of mind. I would, however, like to see a process by which properties are regularly assessed by some kind of ombudsperson to keep the standards to which we are agreed on (clean drinking water, sanitation, no mould, etc., etc.) for the benefit of those who rent. I have a gut feeling that if we make it illegal for property owners to “ask to leave” those renters that they have for ten months of the year when they come back in summer, a lot fewer rental accommodations will be on the table. And you can’t force people to become landlords. I think we can have a rental ombudsperson to mitigate battles between landlords and tenants, which has become increasingly pandemic, and one of the reasons for our lack of rental accommodations. 

There have been suggestions that there are ALR property owners poised and ready to build affordable accommodations on their farms, sitting on go, chafing to build, awaiting only a directive from the Trust. I kinda doubt it. One of the major reasons is that the cost of building any suitable building here on island has become cost prohibitive. The problems worsen when you factor in a law that makes owner-built dwellings a thing of the past. I’m not talking about Tiny Houses here, which is an option we should talk about. But even if the idea is some sort of “caravan” community of tiny homes, the issue of sanitation and water supply, as well as roads, power, taxes, doesn’t just disappear because of the size of the home. And I think we, the property owners, should have some say in whether or not we are forced to live next to a trailer park, no matter how hip and youth oriented it is. The bottom line for me is that I don’t want the ALR or any of the large land parcels from which the ALR was carved up into years ago, to be further subdivided, virtually or physically, or that the density of our rural areas be increased beyond the current ALR laws. This is a complicated subject/crisis that needs to be addressed and I look forward to healthy productive discourse on this proposal, but I would like to caution the Trust from making any decisions until all the facts are in. 

I’d like to remind folks that the north end of Gabriola seems to take the brunt of all this new development and that most of the ALR properties are heavily wooded. So any future development there will require clearing of standing trees in proposed new home sites. And that water shortages in summer are getting worse and worse every year of global warming. And obviously if you increase density on any given land and thereby increase demand on the ground water, agriculture in the traditional sense becomes a non-starter without some fairly expensive and probably unaffordable technologies to address the problem. There are solutions to our housing problems. Let’s just not put the cart before horse, please.

~ Erik Johnson