TOWARD A COMMUNITY VISION FOR THETIS ISLAND:
A Submission to the Local Trust Committee
Submitted by: Ken Youds, Secret Sea, 241 Kenwood, Thetis Island
Part 1: Introduction and Context
The “Envision’ enterprise that the Local Trust Committee is embarked upon – the envisioning of the kind of community we wish Thetis to be – is appropriate and we applaud the LTC for taking the initiative. This is, we presume, the initiation of a longer process to review and update the Official Community Plan (OCP) and, subsequently, the Land Use Bylaws for Thetis Island. This submission, including the attached “Commentary on Strengthening the Islands Trust’, is respectfully provided to you, the local Trustees for Thetis. We request that these two submissions be filed formally with the Islands Trust.
Context of a Thetis “Vision’
While a vision might provide a context for an OCP and land use bylaws, the vision itself has a context. A vision for a community should embrace a complete, balance picture of the kind of place desired, encompassing:
- demographic trends and ideals,
Each of these aspects of a vision are part of an integral whole; each affects the other.
- environmental issues,
- provision of local services,
- governance and laws (particularly land use), as well as
- the spirit of the community.
Thetis is a small island with a small resident population. It is much like a village in size. Most residents and property owners have been enchanted by Thetis Island because of its village-like characteristics and the scenic qualities. It offers a lifestyle of respite from the bigger, bustling world. For services, islanders depend on local volunteerism and on interaction with their neighbours; there can be no reliance on “government’ to provide service here. However, the strong traditions of volunteerism and neighbourly respect and tolerance have been diminishing. Many people no longer think that they ought to contribute to the operation of this community. Whereas in past decades there was a very vibrant sense of “we can pull together and get this done’, now there are contrasting views, such as: “we did it elsewhere’; “we´re retired’, “we´re too busy, “we´ve done our service, now it´s someone else´s turn’ and “we come here to relax, not participate’. The nature of the community is changing.
At the same time, Thetis is no longer a place to buy inexpensive real estate, as it was in the 1980´s when some of us “discovered’ this great place. Some market valuations (i.e. appraisals for sales purposes) of lots have risen 400 to 1000 percent over the past twenty years. This may be fine for those who bought then, but radically changes the nature of who can afford to move here now and in the future. Thetis is now a difficult place for young families to buy property and settle, unless they are comparatively wealthy. Moreover the booming economy elsewhere and the local difficulties in finding sustainable income make it problematic for families to settle on Thetis, unless they are connected to steady employment or are comparatively wealthy. What are the predictable demographic and community implications of this? Some of these are:
- an older and aging population,
- difficulty in sustaining an able fire department roster,
- difficulty in sustaining the current garbage service
- a population less inclined to do “grunt’ work for the community,
- possible closure of the school (if enrollment continues to shrink),
- more part time residents as a percentage (wealthy owners have more options),
- demands for more service provision from government,
- less interaction between neighbours, which can lead to more time/expense required to formally resolve disputes
We all enjoy Thetis as a largely green and natural place. Natural vegetation dominates. According to the OCP, the desired average lot size for the entire island is 5 acres, with 10 acres being the average required on 80% or more of the island. Still, there are several enclaves of small lots on Thetis that were created prior to the creation of the Islands Trust. These small lots were, at one time, predominantly cottage properties (i.e. seasonally occupied) but over the years more have become occupied as full time residences with greater demands upon the water table and other environmental matters. Elsewhere, most properties (residential, commercial, institutional) are fairly large. Notwithstanding the higher densities in some areas, when viewed from a distance – from a plane or from a boat two miles off shore -- Thetis Island appears virtually undeveloped: only a very few buildings can be distinguished from the forest. Indeed, since the time of initial settlement 150 years ago, there are probably many more trees and more dense bush today, simply because the larger, higher “old growth’ trees were substantially removed and have since been replaced by younger and more densely growing trees and shrubs. The dominance and density of vegetation creates its own environmental challenge: this dense forest is very dry during the summer season, presenting a substantial risk of a major wild fire destroying the forest and all structures distributed throughout. So, what environmental issues are important for our vision? Some might be:
- maintaining healthy forests (diverse, robust from disease)
- reducing the risks and potential destructiveness of wildfire
- retaining/featuring old growth specimens
- protecting the most sensitive ecosystems: shallow soil meadows
- controlling the spread of exotic plants/weeds
- avoiding the potential introduction of exotic animals (possums, rabbits, bull frogs, etc.)
- maintaining healthy wildlife populations
Local Services Context
In crafting a vision for the community, we need to think about what services we have and how we plan to maintain them and what other services may be needed in the future. Service provision often relates strongly to governance and demographics. Beyond road maintenance, ferry service, and building permits, the tradition of Thetis is to develop local services using local resources, both capital and people, and to operate them using local volunteers as well. Over the past several years finding new recruits for the Volunteer Fire Department, trustees for the Improvement District, and directors and hands-on people for TIRRA and TICA (both of which provide important local services, such as garbage service, library and community center administration) has proven increasingly difficult. In addition, Thetis Islanders operate the community dock through a Port Commission established by the Cowichan Valley Regional District. Beyond these core services, the Parents´ Association, Cemetery Society, and newly created Community Fund Board all require volunteers to deliver their respective missions. In our vision, we need to think about such issues as:
- number of volunteers to provide the desired services
- skills required to manage the organizations
- recruitment and retention for essential services (fire and first responders)
- the range of services: adequate, too much, or more needed?
- options for funding (donations, fund raising, taxation, municipal borrowing)
- insurance/liability coverages: efficiencies versus duplication
- options for organizing governance
It is reasonable for every community, as it evolves, to examine the structure by which its services are funded and delivered. Thetis has long been relatively isolated from the larger population centers of the region and has, over time, evolved its own service provision. Local folks developed the first roads and ferry service before these became responsibilities, in one form or another, of the Province. The Islands Trust was created in the early 1970´s to help regulate subdivision throughout the Gulf Islands. Regional districts were create a few years later to help organize unincorporated rural areas. Today Thetis Island relies on the Islands Trust for land use governance and the Cowichan Regional District for community dock ownership, building inspections and off-island solid waste garbage transfer. The Ministry of Transportation oversees road development and maintenance. Meanwhile, the Thetis Island Improvement District finances our fire department through property taxation. Presently, local governance, to the extent it exists, is shared among four authorities. Beyond these, local volunteer-based organizations – particularly TIRRA and TICA provide services that are outside the mandates, interests and funding of government authorities. Part of the visioning exercise needs to be an examination of the effectiveness of this governance/non-governance mix. Interestingly, a Saltspring Island group produced a paper called “Strengthening the Islands Trust’. Their proposal for the governance issue to increase the powers of the Islands Trust and increase interaction with other government authorities. Is this approach right for Thetis? Key general governance issues are:
- Is the present governance system the most efficient and effective at delivering the services desired by Thetis Islanders?
- What are the options for service delivery?
- How do those options affect the present authorities and their mandates on Thetis?
Land Use Governance Context
There are some who have said that the current OCP and Land Use Bylaws for Thetis Island are virtually perfect and should not be reviewed or modified: “only enforcment is needed’. Some of these people also assert that there are “loopholes’ that need to be closed, so also seem to favour some form of a review and revision of the bylaws. Although the land use bylaws were adopted in 1997, the present OCP and bylaws largely evolved in the early 1990´s. Since then, many things within the community and the world have changed, particularly economic and technological aspects of Canadian society.
Those that have recently asserted that the current bylaws are fine as they are also say that they reflect community consensus and therefore should not be changed. However, those who actively participated through the early 1990´s in the development process for the current OCP and Land Use Bylaws, might recall the tension and debate, and they might note that the resulting documents do not fully represent the public desires at the time. For example, during all of those meetings, there was a great amount of discussion of how to control the expansion of the capacity of the institutions, with the result being a physical survey of the building sizes, with no attempt to limit the beds, contrary to the desire of the community at the time. Also, there was much discussion of guest cottages in terms of excluding their use for long term rental (due to the density effects), however there was no discussion of the issue of short-term use of these cottages for paying guests: the current prohibition on this use was never discussed but simply mysteriously materialized in the approved bylaws a few years later. The point is that the bylaws were not created through a community consensus process. There was a process, but it had it´s share of faults and limitations.
Bylaws are not sacred tablets found on a mountaintop; they are community-based documents and should be reviewed periodically by the community to ensure they make sense for the community. Going forward, we need to wonder:
- Does the current legal framework provide for the kind of community that we see as appropriate?
- Do the land use bylaws permit the right activities and uses and exclude the inappropriate activities?
- Do land use bylaws make legal sense, such that they will withstand court challenges?
- Does the OCP or the bylaws help or compromise the building of a sustainable, demographically balanced community?
- Does the OCP and the bylaws support the retention of the natural environment?
- Is there consistency between the OCP policies and the bylaws?
- Is there likely to be substantive voluntary compliance or will unpopular laws require continual enforcement and create excessive angst?
Community Spirit Context
Arguably, the cornerstone of Thetis Island as a community is the common commitment to positive interaction within the community. The community is not defined by any or all of the hard assets – Forbes Hall, fire department assets, the cemetery, etc. – or the legal framework for land use as provided by the Islands Trust. The cornerstone -- the key to making it work -- is the cumulative history and legacy of volunteers: the community spirit. Without a strong commitment to community by its members, we have nothing but a geographic collection of pretty pieces of real estate. With volunteerism dropping in the last few years, and new residents and owners demonstrably less willing to pitch in, we have to wonder how we will sustain this community. A community, particularly a small community, is a fragile thing. The care and nurturing of this community is a vital process; measures that disrupt the positive interactions between its citizens, particularly those that sap the energies of those few who provide the core services are bound to undermine the sustainability of those services and of the community. We have to find ways to encourage more volunteerism, and avoid those paths that would undermine it. Vision-building issues might be:
- How do we create interest in volunteering for the fire department or other core functions in the community?
- How can that interest be sustained?
- How is that interest threatened?
Community Vision Themes
There are a variety of themes that, together, delineate our collective “village’ culture on Thetis Island. Perhaps not surprisingly, although we residents may be from diverse backgrounds, in enjoying this place on the planet we share many values and issues. Consider the following list of values and issues in terms of how it applies to yourselves, your families and your friends. This is not presented as a complete list but it is a start; it has been compiled through informal discussions with islanders.
- Self-reliance within households
- Neighbour-to-neighbour support (when needed)
- Complex friendship linkages that span socio-economic and demographic census categories
- Local culture of independence from external government authorities
- Desire to see the school continue
- Desire to see core community services continue
- Many are prepared to volunteer when called upon
- Few are prepared to volunteer for on-going duties
- Concerns about the sustainability of community services
- Fairly common desire to resolve issues directly with neighbours
- Aversion to intolerent, absolute, cut-and-dried enforcement of bylaws
- Desire to minimize environmental change
- Desire to enjoy one´s private property without excessive external/government meddling
- Concerns about affordability of ferry service
- Concerns about ferry traffic, both peak periods (convenience) and slack periods (risk of reduction of service)
Part 2: Focusing on Land Use Bylaws
The land use regulatory framework for Thetis Island is founded in the Official Community Plan and delivered through the Land Use Bylaws. It is important for people to understand that this regulatory framework applies only to the land use mandate of the Islands Trust. Many other aspects of governance are either controlled by other levels of government (e.g. building permits, wildlife, agricultural land protection, transportation, fire regulations), or are not managed by any level of government in this community.
Therefore, while the “vision’ we may individually and/or collectively hold for Thetis Island may have many dimensions, the Islands Trust is only involved in delivery of a portion of that vision: the land use regulatory framework. We hope, though, that the OCP and the Land Use Bylaws will be compatible with and not in conflict with other aspects of our vision. We believe that, for example, analysis of the current bylaws demonstrates that there is some incompatibility, suggesting that a review and revision of the bylaws is overdue.
A Comparative Review
A common starting point for any policy or law review is to examine what is done in other comparable jurisdictions. For comparison to Thetis, we have a number of other Islands Trust jurisdictions. There are reasonable grounds for comparisons with many of the main island communities of the Trust with similar governance and access. Lasqueti is too dissimilar because it lacks public ferry and vehicular access. Bowen is an island municipality – more comprehensive local government powers – and therefore is not comparable. On the other major islands with ferry access, while populations vary widely, the same land use issues occur, albeit with different intensities and implications due to different historical patterns of settlement and land use.
Comparison of the land use bylaws currently in place for various islands --Denman, Gabriola, Galiano, Gambier, Hornby, North Pender, Saturna, Saltspring, South Pender and Thetis -- reveals some interesting generalities and specifics. Most significantly, among the islands, there is little consistency of terms and definitions, and little consistency of banned versus permissible uses in relation to density or related issues. The extent of inconsistency is interesting since the Islands Trust mandate is identical on all the islands. For example, secondary dwellings are identified, described, and defined differently with surprising variety: “cabin’, “guest cottage’, “guest accommodations’, “tourist accommodations’, and so forth, with sizes, allowed use, allowed locations (density), and other aspects also varying widely and with no observable or logical pattern over the whole array or in relation to issue significance. Certainly, some of this variation and absence of a discernable pattern arises from the individual character of the islands themselves, but part of it arises from the kinds of processes (and personalities) that have been at play in the development of the bylaws. Strong local characters have had strong control on the issues and how land use regulations might be expressed, and they have not necessarily considered a broader community perspective.
From our review of the bylaws of other, comparable islands, we have observed a variety of subjects that seem to have been considered for the Thetis Island Land Use Bylaws. To illustrate, the following is a PARTIAL list of questions that arise from the current bylaws, stimulated by reviewing the bylaws of other Islands Trust communities and those of Thetis Island. These are examples of SOME of the subjects that should be considered in an up-dating of the Thetis Land Use Bylaws:
- Is it permissible to store and rent jet-skis (i.e. “personal watercraft’, as per bylaw definitions) as part of a home-based business? There are specific prohibitions on storing and renting personal watercraft in other communities but not on Thetis.
- What, if any, is the differentiation between a dwelling unit/structure and a bunkhouse (i.e. a structure with beds but no kitchen)? Is there any specific limit or control on the latter? A dwelling unit, by definition, includes kitchen facilities. If a structure contains beds but no kitchen, is it legal as part of agricultural or accessory use of an R2 property? A bunkhouse might be used to house paying guests seeking a farm experience, or, for example, recovery from domestic violence, drugs or alcohol abuse.
- How many RV units may be situated on a residential property? Can these be used for temporary guest accommodation, provided that such guests do not pay a fee for the accommodation? RV units are currently stored and used as accommodation on a number of R1 and R2 lots. There doesn´t appear to be any consideration of this use in the current bylaws.
- Is a cookhouse -- an accessory building that includes only food preparation facilities and space for dining -- allowable under the current bylaws? The current bylaws provide no definition or guidance.
- What is the distinction between institutional use and commercial resort use? The institutional zone was designed/intended to suit “church camp’ use, yet during some seasons each year the operations within these zones function as resorts with frequent changes of short term guests. Isn´t this a burden on island infrastructure and unfair to the commercially zoned and taxed properties?
- Can or should there be bed unit limits on the institutions? Bed unit limits were discussed in the early 90´s but the Islands Trust chose to limit the array and footprints of on-site accommodation buildings.
- What precisely are the limits on food service in the rural-residential area as a home-based business, and what is the reason for the limitations? Are restaurants taboo, as specified in some Islands Trust jurisdictions? Is it permissible, as a home-based business, to use an accessory building on a residential property to prepare saleable, ready-to-eat (or heat-and-eat) food items, such as packaged meals, baked goods, etc., and to sell such items to the public? Should there be a provision on Thetis for “country dining’, as a rural-residential option to a restaurant?
- Are mineral development activities (quarrying, gravel extraction, mining, placer operation) permissible or restricted in any zones, provided the appropriate mineral tenure(s) are in place? This issue has emerged in parts of the Cowichan RD -- gravel operations next to residential areas. Thetis is rich in sandstone, which has both decorative and construction values: can a quarry be operated as a home-based business in a residential zone?
- Insofar as agriculture is a permitted use in R2 at this time, are there any threshold limits on the number or intensity of such agricultural operations, such as percent of coverage (e.g. vineyard) or number of animals (e.g. pigs, sheep, goats)? There appear to be none, so one concludes that the Islands Trust believes that, for example, keeping 100+ pigs or replacing forest cover with a vineyard are preferable to providing seasonal accommodation for 2-4 tourists in a guest cottage. Why, in R2, is agriculture given a blessing and tourist accommodation stymied when the former has a far greater ecological footprint?
- What is the definition of a “paying guest’ and is the prohibition on accommodating such in guest cottages legally valid? The current bylaws do not offer a definition of “paying guest’. Does this mean or include exchange of any form of goods, service or money, or does it only refer to the exchange of money? Does payment encompass only the accommodation service and exclude other services that a guest might utilize/enjoy? It is doubtful that the exclusion of paying guests from guest cottages (only prohibited on two islands) has been reviewed for its legal merits and it may well not withstand a court test.
- What is the density impact differential – if any -- between paying and non-paying guests? Each person, whether paying on non-paying, uses toilets, consumes water, uses roads, consumes oxygen. The Islands Trust´s main tool to regulate land use is control of density; if there is no density argument for regulating paying guests, then the only argument is commercial activity, yet, as per question 13, a B&B can potentially create more commercial traffic than a guest cottage. Where is the logic?
- Why is there an emphasis on B&B as the sole means of accommodating visitors? The concept of B&B was borrowed from Britain and is designed to ameliorate the concerns of the hotel industry that their prospective customers would be accommodated in residential areas. By including the breakfast element in the service, the argument was that B&B was a separate “home hospitality’ product and a distinct market than supplied by hotels. B&B guests and hotel guests tend to be very short term (1-3 nights). However in a rural setting, particularly on an island with few dining options and limited access, surely the ideal is to reduce the turn-over (less use of the ferry) and ensure that people are self-sufficient in terms of food services. On other islands, a definition and regulations are provided for “guest accommodation’.
- What is the potential or actual density difference between current B&B regulations (a permitted use -- up to 3 units, subject to lot size) and the use of a legal guest cottage to accommodate paying guests? Due to frequency of turnover and that each B&B unit tends to be occupied by a separate couple, a B&B operation has a theoretical potential of 10-20 visitor-parties per week. By contrast, cottage rentals, being self-catered, tend to be weekly in the peak months and cottages tend to be occupied by single family groups, such that the turn-over in the peak months is 1-2 parties per week. Therefore the current bylaws actually stimulate much higher density impacts than a use that is specifically prohibited.
- Other than agriculture, which can be a fairly intensive use of land, what differences in uses are allowed between R1 and R2? While the OCP defines R1 and R2 differently, with the latter definition allowing for greater variety of rural activity, the Land Use Bylaws do not seem to offer R2 much flexibility in permissible uses that are not also allowed on R1. Accommodation of guests is of lower intensity and less environmental impact than many forms of agriculture.
- If density is a major concern of the Islands Trust, why are R1 lots allowed guest cottages? In some areas, the density of R1 development is 10-20 times that of 10-acre R2 areas. Notwithstanding that many R1 lots already have such structures, perhaps it would reduce density concerns if the right to build a guest cottage was eliminated in R1 such that those lots yet without would not create them.
- Why is there only one level of residential “set-back’ regulations (R1 and R2 have identical rules), when the reality is a number of quite different "neighbourhoods" on Thetis? Other jurisdictions have more than two categories, and there are real regulatory differences between them. It would make sense to develop rules for each neighbourhood that are appropriate for those neighbourhoods.
- What is the distinction, if any, between a residential lot that is occupied as a principle residence and a “home’? In other words, is “home’ contiguous with the residential lot or with the principle dwelling unit on that lot? In a rural area, one´s home includes all of the accessory uses and assets on the home property, together with the main residence. This contrasts to urban settings where “house’ and “home’ may be synonymous.
It is possible to develop a very long list of questions. These are only a sampling of issues that are not resolved by the current bylaws and which should be examined in the context of a renewed “vision’ for the community. The point is that the current bylaws are not perfect. They are the result of a hodge-podge, unsystematic process, a process that did NOT start with a clear vision for the community but instead was controlled by the perceptions and desires of a few.
Part 3: Toward a Constructive, Shared Vision for Land Use Regulation
With regard to the Islands Trust and its land use mandate, we should always reflect back to the purpose in creating the Trust. The Islands Trust was devised in the early 1970´s as a means of controlling the accelerating rate of small-lot subdivisions on islands that were not otherwise governed by local governments. The core ideal was to protect the rural character of the Gulf Islands, mainly through density regulation.
Current controversy on Thetis mainly arises from the contrast between two radically different “visions’ for the community. These two perspectives seem to be rooted in the disparity of the densities among neighbourhoods, a disparity between pre- and post-Islands Trust land use regulation. In more dense neighbourhoods – subdivisions created prior to the Islands Trust – there are concerns about water consumption, set-backs, home enterprise, guest accommodation, noise, and so forth. In less dense areas of the island, such issues do not exist between neighbours. This difference has spawned a divergence of visions for land use regulation: between some who advocate for absolute enforcement and no revision of the current bylaws, and those that want to live in a “live-and-let-live’ community, where enforcement of bylaws is only used as a last resort when neighbours cannot resolve issues between themselves.
1) The “Law and Order’- Conformity Vision:
Some people seem to believe that the Thetis community is defined by laws and adherence to them. These folks have advocated at various meetings that all laws must be “strictly enforced’. It is interesting that all of the vocal advocates of this position own lots that are smaller than the average for the island, lots that are “legal, non-conforming’ because they were subdivided to their current size prior to the Islands Trust. In a strange turn of events, some of today´s occupants of the smaller lots created prior to the Islands Trust see themselves as “saving the island’ by seeking to restrict aspects of rural living that they perceive as contrary to their notion of Thetis. These advocates, though seemingly few in number, are apparently unconcerned when people who have been long time, positive contributors to this community leave because strict enforcement of the bylaws chases them out. Because these individuals worry about the proximity of their neighbours, and are disinclined to work out solutions with them, they want all by bylaws enforced by officials “regardless of the cost’. The place they would define would be a conformist place, where the rural quirkiness, legendary in the history of the Gulf Islands and part of the reason the Islands Trust was created, would be banned. It has been said that Thetis should be like any other suburb: “no different from Kerrisdale’ said one small lot advocate of enforcement. We have to wonder about the consequences:
- Rigid enforcement of the current bylaws requires a reliance on external authorities to deal with inter-neighbour issues, thus eroding one of the binding elements in our community. When the neighbours become “them’, we are building fences, not building bridges, and this is contrary to the true nature of a functioning community. We see this as leading to a serious erosion of the quality of life in a rural community.
- Would volunteers come forward to operate the societies and services on the island? For instance, how many Fire Department volunteers would feel positively about helping neighbours who are increasingly alienated from them, some as “offenders’, some as “vigilantes’. This might not be important in larger communities, but our inter-personal relationships cannot help be important factors here. Are the advocates for strict enforcement members among those who deliver core services (fire, first responders, garbage, administration) to the community, or do they freely pursue their hobbies while expecting others to perform these core services? If so, perhaps these people do not understand or appreciate the importance of such services.
- Would compliance with bylaws increase in proportion to the added costs of enforcement? Wealthier individuals could continue to challenge the bylaws, with the confidence that the Islands Trust has a very limited budget for legal action. The proposed ticketing procedure might intimidate some, but if tickets are not paid, the Islands Trust must decide whether to pursue costly court proceedings.
- Would further court proceedings result in some of the bylaws being shown to be inappropriate or illegal themselves? This often happens when the courts are asked to review specific bylaws of municipalities. There is no Provincial oversight on Islands Trust bylaws; the Province´s view is that the bylaws will be reviewed in court when and if there is legal action. This is a risky and costly mechanism for all parties, but especially the Trust (and taxpayers).
2) The Rural Community Cooperation Vision
Pioneer families built the foundations of the Thetis Island community through individual and cooperative efforts. As an isolated community, they evolved a reliance on cooperation and mutual aid to and among neighbours. This long-standing tradition enabled the creation of the ferry service (not by the Province but by locals), the creation of a fire department, the creation of a community hall, the creation of the cemetery, and so forth. In a traditional rural community, the emphasis is not on rules but rather on neighbourly cooperation. After all, in rural communities we depend on each other, not on government, particularly during crises and other major events. Normally in a rural community, while bylaws exist, seldom is there a need to strictly enforce them because people/neighbours usually tend to work out their differences person-to-person. The bylaws exist as a fall-back surety in the event that an untenable situation develops. Bylaws in a community are like an insurance policy: good as a back-up when absolutely needed but not needed in day-to-day living. Enforcement is a last resort, not a panacea for peace.
Interestingly, in most municipalities and even large cities, the common approach is to use formal enforcement only when a neighbour makes a formal complaint; bylaw officers do not seek out potential violations – that approach is considered too expensive in both the short term and long term. For example, for years cities such as Victoria and Vancouver have depended on there being a large supply of “illegal’ suites; without them, there would be insufficient housing for the lower income portion of the population.
We advocate a vision for Thetis that, as promised in the mandate of the Islands Trust, protects the rural environment and community. This means, to us, making it a people-friendly place. It should not be a draw-bridge community, but rather one which fosters a variety of lifestyles, based largely on zoning and lot size. While the current OCP suggests distinctions between the two types of residential zones, there is in fact little difference delivered in the bylaws and this should be addressed. Moreover, when those documents were crafted no one anticipated the internet and its use by absentee owners to advertise their properties for short term rental, no one anticipated the current height of land valuations and the tax implications for owners of larger lots and parcels, no one anticipated the growth of demand to access the institutions, and no one anticipated that one individual could so brashly “push the envelope’ and “upset the apple cart’ of our live-and-let-live rural community.
In our vision, land use bylaws would be crafted to reflect distinctions between the zones and, in particular, the right of rural landowners without major savings, investment portfolios, multi-parcel land speculation or urban-based pensions, to earn a living from their home-based businesses provided they do not disturb their neighbours. In our vision, people would help one another and talk freely to each other, and would be unlikely, except as a very last resort, to use bylaws to constrain their neighbours. In our vision, in a cooperative traditional rural community, able-bodied people would pitch in to ensure that the vital, core services of the community function and are sustained. By working together, we would discover our differences diminishing and our mutual tolerance and understanding increasing. Certainly, contrasted with the turmoil of the world, this is a great place to live and any current turmoil over bylaws is but a tempest in a teapot.
More specifically, here are some broad elements of our vision:
- identification and differentiation the neighbourhoods of Thetis based on current and future density (i.e. residential versus rural), and provision of varying levels of control or flexibility depending on lot size, whereby there are benefits to maintaining lots larger than the average or minimums
Let us go forward as a community with a positive and comprehensive vision of ourselves as a rural community and with a progressive land use regulatory framework that is consistent with and helps makes that vision a reality.
- identification of the kinds of residential properties, zoning and activities that are appropriate relative to environmental and community values, particularly in the context of regulating uses and density, as they relate to the differentiated types of residential and rural neighbourhoods
- provision of a bylaw mechanism for creating/allowing exceptions to general rules – a process and criteria (temporary use permits are NOT the full answer), such as consensus of adjacent neighbours, zone, set back specifics, etc.
- encouragement of viable, low impact home-based businesses that are consistent with the specific and different neighbourhoods of the island, such that those who depend on such enterprise are not driven sell out to retired or seasonal property owners
- consideration, with respect to home-based businesses, of the services and zoning of the island -- e.g. the lack of commercial zoning, the lack of restaurant services, etc.
- encouragement of neighbourhood-appropriate home-based businesses or re-zoning to commercial – not reasonable say no to both due the current lack of commercial zoning
- for regulation of home-based businesses, substitution of the current tabu-oriented bylaw, which cannot anticipate future needs or issues, with a permit-oriented bylaw that provides general criteria (density, size, noise/nuisance, neighbourhood support, etc.) and an efficient approval process for permits
- finding ways of reducing density, or at least constraining density increases on R1 properties -- possibly by set back restrictions, guest cottage restrictions, etc. -- because that is where the perceptions of "crowding" and water shortages exist.
- encouragement for appropriate forest cover retention, water conservation and storage, including ponds, rainwater collection, etc. – e.g. IT tax rebates or reductions for conservation covenants, awards/certificates for land stewardship, etc.
- encouragement for forest management for fire risk reduction, particularly in the more dense neighbourhoods
|Submitted January 15, 2007 by:
241 Kenwood Road,
Thetis Island, BC
|Edited for circulation March 31, 2007