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Secondary suite lot sizes up for review

A bid to make building detached homes easier could open up the option to hundreds of properties
Secondary suites print
Locations of properties by lot size on Bowen Island.

In an effort to increase rental opportunities on the island Bowen is setting its sights on creating more detached units on existing properties.

Currently a lot must be at least 0.36 hectares (0.89 acres) to be considered big enough for a secondary detached suite. There’s 888 properties on the island in this category.

But these owners have not been leaping at the idea. In the last six years (2016- 21) just 14 detached units have been built on the island. There were another 32 secondary suites built as part of a home and three are planning a suite in the future.

“There hasn’t been a lot of uptake on it,” says mayor Gary Ander.

Taking into account the municipality’s goal of encouraging more secondary suites, outlined during an October 2021 Committee of the Whole meeting, manager of planning and development Daniel Martin made a presentation to council of what expanding eligibility for smaller lots could look like.

A reduction to 0.30 hectares would add 111 lots, and moving to 0.26 hectares would add another 85 lots on top of that. Adding these extra 196 lots would boost eligible properties by 22 per cent.

Martin says it could be a factor in future purchases. “It definitely changes people’s planning. We see the question all the time when a lot goes up for sale, people are very aware of ‘can we build a detached secondary suite?’”

Martin added that lot size alone though doesn’t mean a property could support a secondary suite. Water and sewer capacity, density provisions and development permit guidelines also factor into the equation.

He recommended the idea go to the Housing Advisory Committee (HAC) and Advisory Planning Commission (APC) for approval. This prompted thorough discussion from councillors.

Official Community Plan being followed?

“I don’t see that reflecting our Official Community Plan or the integrated way that decisions (are made) around transportation planning or ecosystems,” says Coun. Sue Ellen Fast.

She adds there’s a conservation development policy coming before council this month that should also be factored in. 

“To me this just looks like ‘more’. And I don’t see the information yet that it’s helping with the urgent housing crisis and employee availability.

It’s probably helping some people out and it’s probably legalizing some existing housing… but I’m not in favour of just adding more without the conservation development policy and the Official Community Plan process to inform this,” says Fast.

Coun. Rob Wynen was concerned the new suites wouldn’t be in the right place, and that the plan is “moving away from the idea of concentrating growth in the Cove area (instead of) the peripheries of the island.

“I think by going to these somewhat smaller, but still relatively bigger lots, we’re moving in that direction again where this will not increase housing in the Cove, where we want to see it increase, but it will likely increase housing and transportation and all that goes with that outside of the Cove. And that concerns me,” says Wynen.

A majority of councillors saw merit in the plan though. “I don’t see this as urban sprawl, I see the sensible use of existing space throughout the island,” says Coun. Michael Kaile.

“Sooner or later this island is going to accommodate more folk anyway, as are all the Gulf Islands. That can only be done in a very measured way and in a very thoughtful way,” says Kaile.

Coun. David Hocking also supported the idea, noting the move to 0.30 or 0.26 hectares as an acceptable incremental step.

“We know very clearly that a lot of the people who work on Bowen can’t afford to live here. A lot of people who want to live on Bowen can’t afford to live here.”

Hocking says he appreciates the concerns over urban sprawl, but notes “this is using existing lots, and perhaps adding to the transit availability on existing roads.”

Ander also reminded everyone of Snug Cove’s current sewage issues with regard to future housing there.

“The Cove could potentially be shutdown here for an extended period of time, so there won’t be any (new) housing coming out of the Cove.”

Council voted 5-2, with Fast and Wynen in opposition, to send the lot reduction proposal to the HAC and APC for consideration. Any potential changes would also be subject to an open house and public hearing.

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