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Updated: Last chance to comment – Land Use Bylaw amendments coming up for public hearing July 12

The public hearing is at 4:30 p.m. July 12
Bowen Island Municipality sign

Some Bowen Islanders want Bowen Island Municipality to hit the brakes on a Land Use Bylaw (LUB) amendment coming up for public hearing July 12.

The amendment is the first substantial review of the foundational LUB, which was adopted in 2002.

The scope of what’s been termed a “housekeeping bylaw,” is to amend the LUB to “streamline and clarify” the document “while not changing permitted uses on properties on Bowen,” according to an October staff report.

“The intent was not to make specific changes but to clarify intent behind regulation,” said BIM’s manager of planning and development Daniel Martin.

But some islanders are saying this housekeeping could have major implications for the island.

The bylaw received first reading in October 2020 and second reading in May 2021. As of July 5, BIM had received 36 comments on the subject. 

Some of the proposed changes are small (for example, “parcel” and “lot” are used interchangeably through the bylaw – so amendment makes everything “lot.”)

But there are consequential amendments for home owners and builders –  the definition of “building” is modified as is how building floor areas, grade and height are calculated as well as lot coverage. There are changes to limit projections into side setbacks (like decks) and to limit the size of landscaping ponds.

Some uses are amalgamated under a single definition (eg. Cottage and artisan industry; agriculture and horticulture; office and general services; inn and guest house). And some definitions are added “light manufacturing,” “fence,” “cemetery,” “retaining wall,” “wood processing” among others.

E-vehicle charging is added as allowed at gas stations and there’s an allowance for solar panels to exceed the building height limits.

Oil-water separators will be required with automobile repair across the island (not just in the zone allowing vehicle repair garage) and six parking spaces for vehicle repair garages across all zones.

Letters to council and to the Undercurrent have commented that the bylaw was branded as a “housekeeping” bylaw while making some significant changes to the LUB, also noting that the conclusion of public consultation – the public hearing – will be held over Zoom, in the summertime, at 4:30 p.m.

However, some of the loudest outcry has been over a modification to what’s allowed for vehicle repair under the “home occupation” section of the bylaw. The bylaw currently allows for hobby or home occupation maintenance of one motor vehicle, licenced or not, at a time on a property, with the requirement that the repairs be done within a year. The amendment limits this further, allowing the maintenance of just one motor vehicle per month per property.

(The Land Use Bylaw defines home occupation as "an occupation carried on for remuneration that is accessory to the residential use of a dwelling unit.")


Howe Sound Automotive grew out of the pandemic. For nearly two decades, Geoff Degner had been bringing islanders’ cars to the mainland garage he worked at and back. When COVID-19 hit, the shop closed its doors. “He quickly acted and started his own automotive company on Bowen Island,” said wife Kirsten Degner. They contacted the municipality and asked after land available on island that they could purchase and zone for automobile repair. “We were told at that time, that there is absolutely nothing that’s available because Bowen just has a real lack of any industrial land,” she said. They instead got a home occupation business license, the limitation being they’re only allowed to have one vehicle on the property at a time for repair. So, Kirsten picks up the vehicles, brings them to Geoff to fix, and then returns them.

While their business could continue as non-conforming if the bylaw passes, they can neither halt the business for six months nor move or they’d then have to adhere to the new bylaw.

The fledgling business has neighbourhood support, said Kirsten and with the one car at a time limitation, there’s no room to grow the business, she said. “It just puts a real emphasis that we need more industrial space on Bowen Island for people like us, because it’s these types of trades that keep our island going.”


But, for BIM, the limitation of one car per month, restores the intent of the bylaw. “When you talk to people who adopted that home occupation regulation, they say it was never intended to be used as a main business…it was intended [that] somebody could fix a car and they could sell it if they wanted to,” said Martin.

It’s unusual for a LUB to have automobile repair as home occupation, says BIM’s frequently asked questions section of the bylaw amendment webpage. “We looked around at other municipalities similar to Bowen and couldn’t find an example of it anywhere else in B.C.”

It notes environmental and regulatory concerns. “Properties zoned residential have different regulations for land use than those zoned commercial, so there’s a special definition for home occupation that’s more restrictive. This is to protect residential neighbourhoods and the environment.”

Under the amendments, the restrictions placed on vehicle repair garage (oil-water barriers, six parking spaces) apply across the island rather than just in the two zones that have specific designations for vehicle repair garages (where Leigh Automotive is, which they had specifically rezoned for the purpose two decades ago).


It took Chris Leigh, of Leigh Automotive, three years to have his Cates Hill property rezoned for a vehicle repair garage two decades ago. "We had to have two environmental studies done, one environmental impact report, one environmental report, and we had to have a water table study in case there was a spill. We had to get permission from Islands Trust, we had to have [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] comment because we are uphill from the fish hatchery," he said. There are also stringent oil-water separator requirements the garage and its parking area have to adhere to, indicated Leigh. To his reading of the bylaw, the loophole that appears to allow home-based commercial repair relies on a staff interpretation, rather than actually allowing commercial repairs across the island. He'd like to see the amendments spell out in the home occupation section that one needs proper zoning to conduct commercial automobile repair. "There needs to be a caption like that in there because otherwise, it's not fixing it," he said.


Brad Hawthorn is concerned that the sweeping LUB amendments will affect hobby automobile enthusiasts.

Hawthorn collects and restores old motorcycles. Under the bylaw amendment, he’d be allowed to work on one motorcycle a month, and by his reading, would need six parking spaces to do so. “There’s all kinds of people squirreled away on the island [who] build old hot rods or restore old 1920s Buicks for their own enjoyment,” said Hawthorn. “Because of the [existing] wording of the bylaw, we fall into the same category as a commercial garage or a home-based commercial garage.

“With the new wording, there’s a whole bunch of new restrictions, that means we can’t do what it is that we like to do.”

Hawthorn is concerned with a lack of clarity (for example, what applies to hobbists vs. vehicle repair garages) and that, as an established bylaw, it should be interpreted literally, rather than based on 20-year-old intent.

On the other hand, Martin points out the provision lumping in “hobby” with “home occupation” has been in the bylaw since 2002. He said that the intent of the bylaw amendments is not to lump in commercial garages and hobbyists (and by his reading of the bylaw, one wouldn’t need six parking spaces for a hobby use).

The majority of letters to BIM have been about this provision, said Martin, and he’ll present council with options of leaving the proposed amendment unchanged, removing “hobby” wording from the “home occupation” section or removing that proposed change altogether.


The public hearing is the last opportunity for council to hear from the public – after that council may receive no more written or verbal submissions on the topic. The bylaw then is considered for third reading and following that, adoption.

The public hearing is at 4:30 p.m. July 12. See more information on the BIM website.

Editor's note: this story was updated July 9 to add comment from Leigh Automotive.