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Rule changes adopted for Bowen secondary suites

Detached secondary suites can now be built on any sized property
Muni Hall
Bowen Island Municipal Hall

Minimum lot size requirements for detached secondary suites are officially a thing of the past on Bowen Island.

The decision was made at council’s July 25 meeting; the group’s final gathering before the summer break. The bylaw amendment means that – in theory – any property on the island can now build a detached secondary suite (DSS). Previously a property had to be at least 0.36 hectares to allow this.

In practice however, this won’t be the case since several others factors also have to be fulfilled.

“It’s not like we’re going to see every property that now has the ability to put a DSS turnaround and build one right away… a lot of the applications will likely get rejected because it won’t fit within some of the other constraints around water, wastewater, setbacks, lot coverage, or things like that,” said chief administrative officer Liam Edwards at the meeting.

“It would take decades for it to come to full buildup, even if it ever does – which I doubt,” added Edwards.    

Public feedback showed opposition to changes

This concern about the number of new units that could be built was shared among councillors and the public – the latter of which was largely opposed to the project based on feedback. All six speakers at a public hearing last month on the topic voiced their opposition, with the same sentiments shared by 24 of 27 letter writers.

One of the main sticking points was how the proposed changes married up with the Official Community Plan (OCP), particularly with regard to the scope of how many houses would pop up on Bowen going forward.

“I’m really worried about sprawl happening… and us being able to service that sprawl, especially outside of the Cove,” said Coun. Rob Wynen. He added “the public support is not really there. At least from what we heard it was pretty much universally against this policy. So that definitely concerns me.”

Wynen also wondered if removing the minimum lot size would actually address one of council’s main goals: increased long-term rental options. “Is it realistic that it would be cheap rentals? Or are we just potentially getting higher land values plus short-term rentals moving into those areas?”

An earlier version of the bylaw amendment proposing the elimination of short-term rentals in new secondary suites was scrapped following pushback from the public and Housing Advisory Committee. Instead, Bowen’s entire short-term rental approach – including their permissibility in secondary suites – will be reviewed next year.

Bylaw amendment’s relationship with Official Community Plan debated

Daniel Martin, manager of planning and development, acknowledged while there may be more housing units following the lot size change, the number of primary dwellings should remain close to the estimate in the 1996 OCP.

Martin cited three sections from the OCP – General Land Use Management Principle 3, Policy 129, and Policy 355 – to conclude the plan and bylaw amendment do not contradict each other. “Based on these OCP policies, staff see that the OCP supports the creation of DSS… in all residential areas,” said Martin.

Coun. Sue Ellen Fast agreed that the building and planning elements of the OCP were being observed by staff, but wondered about other parts of the plan.

“There are other parts of the OCP: goals and objectives about helping ecosystems, and I would like to be seeing some of those reflected before I could support it,” she said.

“I see that staff acknowledged it could create more impervious surfaces at a time when we’ve got more storms and extreme runoff and drinking water concerns about permeability and more development in general taking the place of trees,” says Fast.

“The rural character of our island is changing in the smaller lot areas of our development, and I think we could be losing it. This is the part of rural sprawl that I am concerned about. Where is the connectivity plan? Where’s the strengthening and protecting our ecosystems?”

OCP issues weren’t shared among most councillors though. “We had a lot of opposition to this, but really based on misunderstandings of what was going on,” said Coun. David Hocking on public concern the bylaw amendment clashed with the OCP.

“You talk about, ‘well with one stroke of the pen we’re doubling the population of Bowen Island.’ Well, that stroke of a pen happened about 15 years ago. And so really, it’s a very small change,” he added regarding the public comments about potential increases to sprawl and population.

“Yes the comments we got were negative, but it’s sort of a fact… the people that are in support don’t usually come out, they’re usually quiet,” said Coun. Alison Morse. 

“And I don’t think it’s sprawl at all, those lots are already there and they’ve already got houses on them,” said Morse.

Coun. Michael Kaile also had his doubts about the public hearing process. “I’m far from convinced that what we did hear was entirely representative of the island as a whole, considering our housing needs,” he said.

The final reading passed in a 5-2 vote, with Fast and Wynen opposed, and is now enacted into law.

Two other changes in the bylaw increase the maximum allowed floor area of a DSS from 115 square metres to 140 square metres, and adds siting of the DSS as a factor to consider when approving it.    

An example of siting is building the DSS closer to your house than a neighbour’s property, if possible.