Zoning review wraps up

Urban Systems completes a series of meetings designed to modernize the District's zoning bylaw.

PORT HARDY—Carriage houses, windmills, urban agriculture and even chickens could become part of the Port Hardy landscape, depending on the findings of a group of consultants in meetings with local residents last week.

The three consultants with Urban Systems met with business owners, civic leaders and residents in a series of meetings designed to bring the District’s zoning bylaw into alignment with the Official Community Plan passed in 2011.

“The basic bylaw we’ve been dealing with was done in 1999,” said Gloria Le Gal, director of economic development for the District. “In 2006 we did a bit of a rewrite. It prettied it up a bit but didn’t look at the body of it.

“That’s what this is about.”

The Urban Systems consultants — Stephanie Johnson, Dan Huang and Ryan Beaudry — unveiled a preliminary outline of their fact-finding week during an open house held at Council Chambers last Thursday.

“We’re asking participants to confirm, did we get it right?” said Johnson. “And what did we miss; can you write down your comments? The next step is to provide a summary to council and get their direction on some of the proposed changes to the bylaw.”

Urban Systems will return shortly after the New Year with a draft bylaw, which will be presented to council and to the public. That would be followed by the formal statutory land use regulation process, including two readings of the bylaw in public meeting, a public hearing, and then final passage.

“There will be two more meetings for the public to have a stab at it,” Le Gal said.

All zoning categories have been addressed, from residential to commercial, industrial and general holdings, a category covering large acreages currently designated only for wood lots and selected forestry use.

“For people who have those properties, the last bylaw took a lot away from them,” said Le Gal. “We’re looking at the best way to give that back to them. We’re looking to rectify shortfalls of the past.”

The top request among those large-lot holders is the ability to put a family home on the property. Other requests included those for hobby farms or small, home-based businesses.

“Those requests match with the Official Community Plan, and we’re definitely going to be taking a look at that,” said Huang.

He noted another emphasis of the OCP was sustainability, and to that end the consultants will examine the allowance for emerging green technologies and existing technology, including windmills and solar panels.

Related to sustainability is an increased emphasis in many communities for food security. That could result in food security allowances like urban agriculture, honey bee colonies and possibly backyard chickens. Though, Huang admits, the chicken issue seems to be something of a hot-button issue inside town limits.

“Some are for it, some are against,” he said. “It’s really how you maintain it and can you keep it clean? Can you be a responsible chicken owner?”

Perhaps the top recurring theme in residential zones dealt with secondary accommodations on residential property. Currently, the bylaw allows for studio, or “mother-in-law” apartments, but only when they are contained within the primary dwelling, like a basement suite.

The Urban Systems staff heard multiple requests for secondary dwellings, either self-contained in a separate structure or built above a detached garage or shop.

“Other communities are doing it,” said Huang. “The example we’re using is the bylaw in Nanaimo, and we’re asking the question, ‘Will this work in Port Hardy?’ We’re not saying just because it works in Nanaimo it must work here; we’re just asking the question.

“We’re in the information-gathering stage, to see what resonates with Port Hardy.”