Weak enforcement erodes Trust mandate

The Islands Trust must strengthen its bylaw enforcement program to restore public respect for its ‘preserve and protect’ mandate Gulf Islands Alliance Chair Misty MacDuffee told Trust Council.

While she commended the Trust for some recent court victories in bylaw enforcement cases and for improved enforcement on some islands, she said “the feedback GIA is getting is that lack of enforcement is a major barrier to achieving the Trust’s mandate.”

GIA has learned that the Trust’s two enforcement officers are coping with approximately 150 cases. Alleged infractions include the illegal short term rentals of multi-suite homes and guest cottages, the sale of commercial products from residences, decks hanging over the foreshore and impeding beach access, the construction of buildings, additions and sea walls without permits or Trust approval, and various environmental abuses. Even when action is taken, some cases continue for months, even years.

“In some cases, strong bylaws are not enforced. In others, bylaws are difficult to enforce because of the way they are written. Violators are aware that prosecution is unlikely, so they proceed with impunity”, MacDuffee said.

MacDuffee’s presentation was made to the December, 2009, quarterly meeting of the 26-member Trust Council who regulate land use for the 13 Trust island areas.

GIA is also asking Trustees to implement recommendations made in its own Roycroft Report on bylaw enforcement, particularly to investigate weak language in existing bylaws and allocate funds for three full time bylaw enforcement officers. One officer is responsible for Salt Spring, Saturna, North and South Pender, Mayne and Galiano islands.

“One officer can’t possibly do an adequate job of responding to complaints over such a large area,” MacDuffee said. “No wonder islanders are frustrated.”

GIA also asked that revenues from successful legal actions be directed to the Trust’s legal budget to further supplement existing funds.

A recent letter to the Trust by Gisele Rudischer, a former Gabriola trustee and now a GIA board member, detailed some important insights into the enforcement issue:

“There is no point in writing new Official Community Plans and regulatory bylaws if they are not upheld.

“While going through the papers I accumulated over 12 years as a trustee and 6 years on the executive committee, I’ve come across numerous letters from residents of a number of islands pleading with the Islands Trust to enforce our bylaws.

“The credibility of the Islands Trust is at stake. To be taken seriously the Islands Trust must act when there are bylaw infractions. It is unacceptable that some cases go on for years with no resolution. On Gabriola, there is a steady stream of illegal dwellings being built under the guise of ‘studios’.

“The change in policy that allows bylaw enforcement based on advertisements of illegal activity, without a complaint, is not working. It seems there is no time, or stomach to enforce on complaints, let alone advertisements.

“Every week there are advertisements in the local papers for illegal rentals, yet there is no effort on the part of bylaw enforcement to control this problem. The attitude seems to be that if there are no complaints by neighbours, there is no action required. Complaints by residents who are not direct neighbours are characterized as nuisances.

“Other local governments deal with infractions more quickly and are taken more seriously” Rudischer concluded.