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Secondary dwellings on hold in Arbutus Ridge

Local water issues need to be worked out before extra homes can be considered
Two side-by-side arial images of location of Arbutus Ridge (one zoomed in, the other zoomed out)
Location of Arbutus Ridge development in BIM council staff presentation Oct. 12

The west side of the island may see a bump in residencies one day, but local water issues will need to be sorted out before that can happen.

A rezoning application for Area 1 of CD Zone 18, more commonly known as Arbutus Ridge, would have allowed for construction of detached secondary suites for residential use on any of the nearly 40 properties in the area. The zone is one of the few on Bowen which still doesn’t allow this.

But after lengthy discussion Monday council felt they weren’t ready to move ahead before existing area matters were settled.

The rezoning process began in the fall when an application was brought forward to consider the change. Council referred the question to several invested committees, who came back with differing views on the idea.

The Housing Advisory Committee (HAC), Advisory Planning Commission and Environment and Climate Action Advisory Committee (ECAAC) were generally in favour of the proposal, with some suggestions. These included ensuring that steps be taken to address increased pedestrian and vehicle traffic, as well as determine rules around lot coverage.

The Parks, Trails and Greenways Advisory Committees appeared more reluctant, citing “the impact of increased density on local trails and beaches in the area including increased foot traffic and beach visitation, parking, garbage, boat usage and the financial impacts due to increased staff maintenance that would come out of the BIM Parks budget.” Like the ECAAC though they agreed to the plan if lot coverage was addressed.

Currently structures in this zone – not including garages or accessory buildings – can cover up to 260 square metres, or almost 2,800 square feet. Council decided to include any secondary dwellings in this count, siding with the ECAAC and Parks committees. The HAC had requested new suites be part of a ‘bonus’ floor plan to incentivize building them.

Council also determined any new residence would count as one of the two accessory structures allowed on a property. While there are 38 properties in the zone, the new rule wouldn’t immediately make all of them eligible due to a maximum lot coverage rule of 25 per cent. About 15 lots are big enough to accommodate a second unit while still falling under this number.

What about the water?

But the proposal hit a sticking point with the King Edward Bay Water System Local Advisory Committee (KEB), who argued increased users would put a strain on the system. Stating a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with BIM “has not been signed, nor has any other form of progress been achieved,” the group unanimously voted against the rezoning.

CAO Liam Edwards says the MOU with the West Side Water Systems is in the works but stalled in the fall due to Bluewater committee member concerns over what they called a lack of inclusive language. Council passed an additional resolution directing staff to revisit MOU discussions as soon as possible.

Water wasn’t the only concern about the application though. Some councillors wondered whether it was a good idea to promote new housing so far from amenities.

“We’re trying to prevent sprawl away from the Cove. We want to make sure that housing development is in easily serviceable areas, not on the other end of the island,” says Coun. Rob Wynen.

“How does this fit into that plan of not wanting to see sprawl moving out into the forest and across our island instead of trying to create strategically more growth in the Cove?”

Coun. Sue Ellen Fast agreed. “I think rentals should be concentrated in Snug Cove as our official community plan (OCP) suggests. I wish I was seeing more reference to the OCP in these reports.”

But Coun. Maureen Nicholson says increased density shouldn’t be limited to the Cove, calling that approach “not particularly practical, and rigid.”

“If we have the potential to have a fairly significant number of rental homes in a decent area that has good roads and is going to have the utilities in place, then I’m all for that,” says Nicholson.

Daniel Martin, manager of planning and development, added the Arbutus Ridge properties are being built no matter what, so allowing secondary dwellings there aren’t taking anything away from the Cove.

Councillors did agree that the new units wouldn’t be allowed to operate as short-term Airbnb-style rentals.

But despite agreeing on much of the proposal, including the need for more housing on Bowen, councillors couldn’t come to terms on the water situation. “I’m concerned the local advisory committee couldn’t find support for it,” says Fast of KEB objections.

This caused a vote on the entire project to deadlock at 3-3 and fail. Coun. David Hocking had declared a conflict of interest and didn’t vote, saying he draws his water from the KEB system.

This prompted Fast to propose a diluted alternative for the meantime: proceed with the application minus the Area 1 properties that are on the KEB tap. This left four lots on Malkin Creek Road, which council unanimously approved for rezoning.

The rest of Arbutus Ridge will now need to wait until progress is made on an MOU with the local water advisory committees before the prospect of secondary dwellings is revisited

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