A proposed Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine zoning amendment bylaw regarding mobile dwellings has been met with backlash by residents of the Hazelton area.
Officially titled “Two-Mile Zoning Amendment Bylaw No, 743, 2020,” the amendment was given first and second reading by the regional district board on Sept. 25, 2020 and was the subject of a public hearing held on Oct. 20 at the Erwin Stege Community Centre in New Hazelton.
The change to the original 1992 bylaw would clarify language, explicitly stating that campers, recreational vehicles and park model trailers are not “dwellings.” It also changes the definition of “mobile home” to add more detail. The same changes are proposed for the South Hazelton Zoning Bylaw No. 326, 1992. Dwellings need to adhere to the provincial building code.
Public response to the amendments was strong. There were 34 people at the public hearing, and the regional district received 20 written submissions.
Housing shortages and affordability was the main concern from the public, with many believing that the regional district was banning RVs, campers and buses as dwellings for the first time, when in fact the BC Building Code already prohibits living in these types of vehicles.
There were several submissions from the public that expressed concern that people would be forced into homelessness.
“This is heartless, ill-considered and unnecessary,” said Hazelton resident Sharon Priest-Nagata in a written submission to the regional district.
“I think it is callous and inhumane to even consider such a thought,” wrote David Tremblay.
Dean Paranich, area director for Hazeltons rural areas, said that there are issues with housing and homelessness in the area and that it is difficult to find places to rent.
“I understand that and I totally get that, however the regional district still has an obligation to follow the provincial government legislation,” he said.
“The confusion I think is coming from the fact that first of all I think that some people think that there are no bylaws at all, or that the existing bylaw is permitting that and now the regional district is coming in and saying that we are making a change and we are not going to permit recreational vehicles, trailers campers, school buses as permanent dwellings and that’s not true at all.”
The regional district’s original definition of dwelling unit is as follows: “Dwelling Unit means two or more rooms, used for residential accommodation of one or more individuals and contains sleeping, cooking and toilet facilities.”
After changes, the definition would read: “Dwelling Unit means one or more rooms, used for residential accommodation occupied by no more than one household, and contains sleeping and toilet facilities, and only one kitchen. Dwelling Unit does not include a camper, recreational vehicle or park model trailer.”
The zoning amendments would also change the original definition of a mobile home, which read: “Mobile Home means a single dwelling unit suitable for year round occupancy which is designed to be transported along a public roadway to the site where it is to be occupied and is complete and ready for occupancy once foundation supports are placed, utilities are connected and other incidental assembly functions are undertaken.
The new definition of mobile home clarifies standards: “Mobile Home (Manufactured Homes) means a single dwelling unit suitable for year round occupancy which is designed to be transported along a public roadway to the site where it is to be occupied and is complete and ready for occupancy once foundation supports are placed, utilities are connected and other incidental assembly functions undertaken, and meets or exceeds Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Z-240 or A-277 certified standards, and assigned a Manufactured Home Registry Number. Mobile Homes or Manufactured Homes does not include travel trailers, recreational vehicles or campers.”
Regional district staff had received inquiries from some members of the Two-Mile community about recreational vehicles (RVs) being used as permanent residences. The regional district allows such structures on a temporary basis if the property owner is building a permanent dwelling. Regional district staff researched how other local governments defines the terms and drafted the amendment to bring the RDKS terminology in line with other municipalities.
The reason that such structures are not permitted as permanent dwellings is that they do not follow the BC Building Code and the BC Fire Code, nor are they built to the structural integrity required in the region. However, the regional district does not provide building inspection or enforce the BC Building Code, so it is up to property owners to ensure that they follow the required provincial codes. While the RDKS does not provide oversight, provincial rules still apply.
Paranich pointed to outhouses as an example of why landowners — even those in Two Mile — need to follow applicable bylaws.
“There’s some people that will live in an RV and dig a hole and make an outhouse and that could be an issue as well because if they are not doing things through legal means and inquiring through the regional district what they are allowed and not allowed to do. They may be digging a hole for their outhouse that is within close proximity to their neighbour’s shallow well and could compromise the quality of their neighbour’s water, so there’s rules in place and there’s bylaws in place for a reason.”
Paranich said misinformation on Facebook is obscuring the true purpose and impact of the amendments.
“Even if this amendment goes through and and the district tries to enforce the bylaw that would clearly state no RVs as homes, our communities do not have to adhere to building code because we are unincorporated,” said Fay McKinnon in a Facebook comment.
“Even if a home on wheels was built to BC building code like a tiny home, it would still be considered an RV and this amendment would prohibit it,” she said in a separate comment.
“You could dump a boat on your lot or even live in a chicken coop — or live in an orange fort made of skis — all not to code and not conventional and that would be ok because they are not classified as RVs.”
Those statements are not true because the BC Building Code does apply to unincorporated communities. According to the Government of British Columbia, the BC Building Code applies to all buildings in B.C. except for the City of Vancouver, Treaty First Nations that do not reference the Building Code in their agreements and federal lands which adhere to the National Building Code.
Paranich said that tiny houses built to code are “completely different than what we are dealing with here,” and pointed to the existing Bluegrass Meadows Micro Village tiny home community north of Terrace as an example of how tiny homes built to code are allowed.
“I’m more than willing to talk to people, come and talk to me, get to know me, bring your concerns to me,” he said.
“I’d rather talk to somebody face-to-face than hear second-hand news on social media with a lot of misinformation and people spreading false narratives about what the regional district’s intents are.”
One of the points of confusion is that Two Mile has the moniker “historically non-conforming,” which was raised in several submissions to the public hearing. Paranich said that slogan came to be back when Hazelton was a fledgling community and there was a bylaw banning bars and brothels, so people settled in Two Mile instead.
“To this day there are a lot of people that move specifically to Two Mile because they feel that it gives them the opportunity to basically do whatever they want, they don’t have to worry about building permits, they don’t have to worry about what they can and can’t do on their property and that’s simply not true because there are bylaws that pertain to Two Mile,” he said.
Due to the public response and confusion surrounding the bylaw amendments, the regional district is setting up a virtual information meeting take place before a second public hearing, which is scheduled for Jan. 14 at 6 p.m. More information about the virtual information will be released in the coming weeks, and the public hearing date is subject to change.
“Anybody that’s currently living in an RV as their principle dwelling isn’t going to be kicked out, we’re not going to make them take it down, we’re not forcing anyone out of their homes,” Paranich said.
“We are not going to do any of that, all we are doing is amending the bylaw, the wording of it, so that in the future when someone takes out a building permit they understand that the onus is on them to build their house or dwelling, or whatever you want to call it to the standards as laid out by the provincial government.”