Penturbia and the Pacific Northwest Coast

Brief Salt Spring Island journey

When I first arrived on the Island…

These weren’t “new” projects, though, but simply the building out of things always on the books, so to speak, after the Islands Trust came into being in the mid 1970s.

From 1990 to 1997, then, the Island experienced changes in the “seaside village“, with older buildings being removed and new buildings constructed. Some of the multi-family (i.e. townhome) zoned properties began to be built out, too, in this same time period.

If one had visited the Island in 1985, and then had returned in 1995, it would have been a quite different village core that one would have returned to.

All of the changes, though, had been put in place, as “potentials,” when the Islands Trust was created by the then Provincial Government, in the mid-70s, and were not “new” options. The changes conformed to the Official Community Plan, (where one can read the bylaws and the development permit area regulations, which are the Gulf Islands form of “government”).

From about 1995 to 2001, the Island “rested” in a fairly stable moment; part of this was due to a recession in the Province of B .C., generally, and part of it was the usual resting that takes place after a spurt of building & development occurs.

In early 2001, B.C began to pull out of its recession, and the Gulf Islands and Salt Spring Island were no exception.

Post 9/11, however, it seemed that a general rewriting of one’s life script occurred, world-wide. A movement known as “penturbia“, which was talked about in the 1980s, seemed to have a resurgence of interest. People began to seek out smaller communities.

Marketing of Real Estate in 2010

The arrival of the Internet, and its ease in allowing one to “do business” anywhere in the world, was also a factor in this ability to live somewhere and work, in virtual space, elsewhere.

The beginning of retirement for that broad generational grid known as the “boomer generation” might also have been a factor in the allure of smaller & more recreationally oriented areas.

Several things began to converge, then, and Salt Spring Island’s year round & stand alone community lifestyle began to be noted.

The pleasing microclimate, here, was also a factor (known as cool Mediterranean).

The Islands Trust’s “preserve & protect” mandate, which capped densities on all of the Gulf Islands, including on Salt Spring Island, inadvertently created a higher priced marketplace.

It may not have been their intention to do this. To preserve the park like atmosphere of the Gulf Islands, for the benefit of all of B.C. may have been their reason for coming into being,

but the outcome of these rules prohibiting growth means that the old maxim of “supply and demand” has come into being, too.

The Gulf Islands, including Salt Spring Island, have seen substantial price increases, in recent years, due to the stringent controls on density, put in place by the Islands Trust, in the mid- 70s.

The allure of the Pacific Northwest Coast, and the extra charm of the Gulf Islands, means that we’ve been “discovered”, as an area, in some fashion, & discovered by a “global audience”.

There’s a limited amount of land available for development, on any Gulf Island, because of the Islands Trust’s mandate.

It seems, as one encounters Salt Spring and the Southern Gulf Islands, that they are very close to what I term the “wall of no more”. As one drives around the Island, today, one is seeing it as it will always be — some new areas may be opened up, but they won’t be visible from the main roads, and the Island is pretty well its “essential self”, now.

Price escalation, in the end, will be inevitable because of the cap on density.

Markets are cyclical in nature, of course, and there will be ups and downs in the “hard asset” marketplace of real estate. If one is lucky enough to be a homeowner on this special and beautiful Island, though, it is a gift for the future to one’s family. It is an investment of a different kind.

The Salt Spring real estate market, though, over the years that I’ve been on the Island, seems to have evolved into a secondary home marketplace.

At the moment, most purchases are second or third home alternatives. Busy people, with main lives “elsewhere”, can’t just immediately “arrive” and stay.

They may end up calling this their principal residence, but it doesn’t often start that way. There may be landed immigrant issues, too — to be here year round requires further conversations, perhaps with an immigration lawyer. It is a mainly out of province purchaser profile, and they cannot always “be here”, full time, to begin with.

All of these shifts create change

Thales once commented, in Ancient Greece, that

one never dips one’s toe in the same river water, twice.

Change is the only constant, other philosophers state. In change is opportunity, perhaps.

Whether Islanders care for this concept or not, change has occurred, steadily, over the past several years. Salt Spring is not a backwater, although it does owe the Trust a debt of thanks for having retained its essential “rural charm,” in these past years.

Realtors are able to be “interpreters” of change, as they are often, just like mortgage brokers and appraisers, in the “front line” of shifting markets. They aren’t the creators of change, though.

With the pressure “on” to allow more development, on the Island, as a result of the desire of some property holders to subdivide, and the desire of the Trust to fulfill its mandate of “to preserve & protect“, and, at the same time, reflecting the growth in population in this unincorporated area, the Island does face some interesting challenges, at this moment in time.

Affordable housing, an aging population, a wish to attract a seasonal recreational visitor and to create a viable business core in the commercial sector, etc. etc. — these are concerns and suggestions of and from Islanders.

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