Regional zoning bylaw changes info session draws a crowd

At the July 4 session, Area E (Elphinstone) director Donna McMahon said she was pleased to see the level of public attendance and that when it comes to zoning rule changes, her view was that opinions will vary, depending on “who’s ox is being gored”.

In the weeks before the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) was originally to go to a June 24 Public Hearing on bylaws to amend riparian and ocean shoreline setbacks for property development, chair Leonard Lee stated he felt a public information meeting should have occurred before that hearing. Those comments were made on Eastlink TV’s “Talk to your local government.”

On June 21, SCRD staff did exactly that; postponed the public hearing to July 16, to allow for a public information event on July 4. That in-person information session saw over 60 members of the public show up during the first half of its 90-minute timeframe. Also in attendance were a majority of Board members and a handful of staff. All were kept busy answering questions and listening to viewpoints related to proposals to increase development setback areas from wetlands, watercourses and the sea.

The proposed changes would alter how proposed new lot sizes are to be calculated in subdivisions, with new lots required to meet the minimums when the area of land containing a watercourse and Stream Protection and Enhancement Areas (SPEA) are subtracted. The SCRD has emphasized the amendments are being introduced to bring local practices into line with provincial guidelines and best practices. The new areas protected from building or hardscaping would include a 30 metre assessment area, a 15 metre SPEA set back and an additional five metre SPEA buffer.

In addition, for properties in Area A, setbacks for development from tidewater are to increase from 7.5 to 15 metres. That change would create alignment those setbacks in other SCRD rural areas.

Structures already built in areas to be covered by the proposed new setbacks would be designated as “legal non-conforming”. They will be allowed to remain as they are, unless renovation or a change of use is applied for. Should such modifications be proposed, the new rules would apply.

A range of community views

Sunshine Coast Streamkeepers Society, spokesperson Shirley Samples, emailed the group’s contacts in the weeks before the information meeting. In those, all were encouraged to be aware of the proposed changes and to consider supporting them. “It is extremely important to implement these changes to the bylaws to ensure protection of the riparian areas throughout the district. Riparian zones are imperative for healthy salmon habitat and to maintain areas that also serve as much needed wildlife corridors”, she wrote.

An April 18 staff report to SCRD electoral area services committee identified that rural area Advisory Planning Commissions (APC) indicated a “mix of support and opposition” for the changes.

The exception was Area A’s APC. At its July 26, 2023 meeting, that group recommended to the Board it “make no changes at this time” to the zoning bylaw for that area. In the APC’s assessment the proposed amendments would create “significant and negative impact on both property values and the amount of subdividable land” and “aggravate rather than clarify the regulatory confusion”. The group cautioned that if the changes were made “bylaw enforcement, requests for variance and pressure on planning staff will grow exponentially because the consequences are critical to waterfront owners”.

A letter from Area B (Halfmoon Bay) resident Bryan Carson, in opposition to the changes was shared with Coast Reporter. It stated that the regional government wants existing homeowners “to now embrace that their homes are non-conforming and subject to the whim of petty but officious bureaucrats. This will not only have financial implications for the homeowner but all residence of the Sunshine Coast as their taxes rise to feed the burgeoning cadre of civil servants required to manage them”.

One Board member’s view

At the July 4 session Area E (Elphinstone) director Donna McMahon said she was pleased to see the level of public attendance and that when it comes to zoning rule changes, her view was that opinions will vary, depending on “who’s ox is being gored”. The July 16 public hearing is set to convene at 7pm, as a hybrid event with participation open to in person and on-line attendees.

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