The steep slope bylaw is now ready to go to the public for comment.
On Monday night, council passed first and second reading of the bylaw, which is a complement to the official community plan update. The only councillor voting against it was Alison Morse; councillors Cro Lucas and Peter Frinton were not at the meeting.
The bylaw incorporates several changes to the first version that was presented to council a few weeks ago.
Director of planning Hap Stelling got a legal opinion about the bylaw from the municipality's solicitor. The lawyer said the document could not include language that permitted special conditions or objectives, nor could it include permissive exemptions. These represent discretionary authority that is not granted under the Local Government Act.
After those permissive exemptions had been removed, Councillor Morse had concerns about the regulatory powers of the bylaw. For instance, she said that anytime someone wants to cut down a Christmas tree on their property, they will have to get a development permit. "There needs to be an exemption to allow someone to take down a small tree," she said.
Stelling said, "Vegetative cover is essential to slope stability so I don't know if we want to encourage the cutting down of trees. The language in the guideline is discretionary; it says a DP may be necessary."
Mayor Bob Turner said it wasn't fair to make a connection between someone cutting down a Christmas tree and cutting down trees that would enhance the risk of slope instability. The size of most Christmas trees fit well within proposed regulations.
Councillor Doug Hooper spoke in favour of the bylaw's intent. "We've said that this is one of the tools in our toolkit. We didn't have it when we started out as a municipality." There's resistance to enacting the bylaw but he says it's helpful to protecting the environment, but part of our toolbox for preserving environment. These things matter in the big picture. When it comes to a single owner wanting to cut down a single tree, you have to work something into the bylaw.
Councillor Nerys Poole said, "I support the bylaw. I think there's a history on this island of not regulating and all of us can point to something in our neighbourhood that has presented problems. I think there's some leeway of landscaped areas; what if you took off all the Christmas trees on a steep slope? You now have erosion."
The essential component of the bylaw is the accompanying map. It highlights all the places on the island where the slope is more than 30 degrees over a 10-metre distance. People who own property in those steep slope areas have to approach the planning department to see if they will require a development permit, and perhaps some level of engineering study, to get permission for that work.
However, there are some exemptions:
landscaped areas and gardens that are less than 50 square metres
alterations to an existing building or structure if construction involves interior work or the exterior renovations do not change the structural footprint or disturb the existing grade and natural soil conditions
normal farm practices
when public health authorities say that a septic system be upgraded or altered
any necessary maintenance activities undertaken by the municipality to protect and enhance roads and trails
emergency workers respond to flood or fire and land slip events
emergency actions to prevent, control or reduce immediate threat to life or property including the removal of hazardous trees; post-emergency rehabilitative work may be required.
Richard Underhill was at council to repeat his objections to the bylaw. He approved of many of the changes but says the map is still "lousy."
"Every home in the inaccurate map is automatically included and that's a bloody tragedy. Exemptions are legally correct but as Hap has said if you don't have an exemption you need a DP. Any development that isn't exempt is subject to your bylaw; that means if I want to put up a sign that says no parking, that requires a DP permit. If an area is landscaped we can garden; but you still haven't considered driveways, parking areas, clotheslines, trails, all would have to be trotted down to municipal hall. You should exempt existing homes. It's an abomination to impose this level of control."
Stelling said that it's not his interpretation of the bylaw that it would include clotheslines and signs.
Poole said that the second exemption is rather broad.
The bylaw passed first and second reading. It will now go out for public comment.