Though the Islands Trust Area is experiencing some significant land-use bylaw infractions, Scott Colbourne, a trustee for Gabriola Local Trust Committee said he’s noticed differences between 2019 and 2020.
“Certainly in 2020, with more eyes on the ground — and more development/disturbances generally — there were a lot of concerns and issues and complaints raised, here and on other islands,” he told the Sounder.
David Marlor, Islands Trust director of local planning services, said the “number of complaints and the nature of complaints are pretty well the same” in 2019 and 2020 in the Islands Trust Area, including in the Gabriola Local Trust. During the pandemic, bylaw officers have kept travel to islands to a minimum as per the Islands Trust’s COVID-19 recovery plan.
“[We’re] making sure when they do have to travel to visit a site that we minimize the number of trips – we try and combine them – which we usually do anyways,” Marlor said.
While initial response to complaints hasn’t changed during the pandemic, he said it’s possible it has resulted in elongating the time it takes officers to visit properties.
“If it’s something that’s potential environmentally destruction – like we got a complaint that someone is cutting trees that shouldn’t be – then we would get out there as quickly as possible.”
Colbourne said he tends to use the words develop and disturb interchangeably and even attempted last year, via motion at Trust Council, to replace references to “development” with “disturbance” in legislation and processes such as permit areas, but it was defeated. He said his recent comments about land-use bylaw complaints were meant to underscore “enforcing the regulations and also educating property owners about their responsibilities under the current bylaws.”
Currently, one bylaw compliance and enforcement manager and two bylaw officers service the entire Islands Trust Area and are based on Salt Spring Island and in Nanaimo, Marlor said.
An average of 300 files are open at a time, meaning the small staff handle a much higher load per person than is typical for most local governments, he said.
The 2021-22 budget proposes an additional full-time bylaw enforcement officer and a temporary part-time bylaw communications officer. The latter role would involve building awareness and understanding of bylaws and permits among the general public and professional advisors, explained Clare Frater, director of Trust Area services. The request for that position came from the financial planning committee. Where the new officers would be located has not been determined, Marlor said.
The final budget will be approved at the next Trust Council meeting, March 9-11.
Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder