The district of Tofino is mulling over new restrictions on the use of shipping containers in town. (Westerly file photo)

The district of Tofino is mulling over new restrictions on the use of shipping containers in town. (Westerly file photo)

Tofino council considers shipping container restrictions

District looking to regulate the use of storage containers within its boundaries

Tofino is looking to regulate the use of storage containers within its boundaries and is moving towards new restrictions to ensure they’re being used strictly for storage use and aren’t becoming eyesores in local neighbourhoods.

In a report presented to council on Jan. 11, Tofino’s Senior Planner Peter Thicke wrote that council had expressed concerns about the impact shipping containers are having on the aesthetic of the downtown core during the town’s Official Community Plan review.

He wrote that while staff was investigating options around the aesthetics of shipping containers, safety concerns were discovered among current shipping container use and those concerns prompted proposed bylaw amendments.

Those amendments include limiting the height of permitted containers, ensuring no shipping containers are used for short term rentals or home occupations and specific requirements for landscape screening and cladding to decrease their impacts on neighbourhood aesthetics outside Industrial Way.

He added the new amendments would not impact shipping containers that have been legally modified to conform to the requirements of the B.C. building code

“I think it’s important to take a minute to note that there’s a difference between shipping containers that have been modified to meet the BC building code and have gone through the building permit process and the shipping containers that are considered under this bylaw,” he said.

“There are some examples of shipping containers within the community that are actually considered buildings now. They were shipping containers in the initial parts of their life, but they’ve essentially been treated as building materials and have been modified to meet BC building codes.”

He suggested, “staff are aware of multiple containers currently in use throughout the community,” and that containers currently being used for storage, workshops or accommodations that have not obtained the necessary permits would not be eligible to be grandfathered in as legal non-comforming status “as they were never permitted or conforming to begin with.”

“The proposed bylaw will alter the definition of ‘structure’ to include shipping containers, thus subjecting them to regulation under the zoning bylaw as defined by the proposed amendment and removing any uncertainty about their status,” he wrote, adding this would include restrictions around using shipping containers as art installations.

“From a bylaw perspective, any non-permitted container will now be clearly in contravention of the Zoning Bylaw and may be subject to enforcement.”

He cautioned that enforcement would be done strictly on a complaint-driven basis, adding that planning and bylaw staff had met with the building inspector and fire chief to ensure all inspections of containers would include education around the concerns that have been raised.

“As our bylaw staff typically work on a complaint driven basis, we have not actively enforced on any existing containers within the community…Staff are currently recommending that we continue on this trajectory just due to staff capacity to actively enforce and how that may pull away from other council priorities,” he said. “One of the goals of this particular bylaw is to ensure that the building inspector does at least get eyes on all shipping containers that are brought into the community and make sure that appropriate modifications are made to ensure proper ventilation and ensure that they’re placed on level ground.”

The new bylaw would restrict containers to 3 metres in height, down from the current allowable height of 4.5 metres, prohibit containers from being stacked and mandate adequate ventilation.

“Staff will continue to work with the Tofino Volunteer Fire Department to encourage owners of existing shipping containers to retrofit them or relocate them to meet the guidelines of the proposed bylaw. At this point, staff do not recommend specific enforcement actions be taken against existing containers due to limited staff capacity to follow through effectively,” Thicke wrote.

Council voted 5-1 to move the bylaw through its second reading, with Coun. Cathy Thicke the only vote in opposition.

“I’ve spoken about this before and I’m going to say it again, I’m not in favour of having the containers being in the downtown core. I am in favour of having the containers in the zoning of Industrial Way,” she said.

She suggested the town’s Official Community Plan “speaks very strongly about maintaining viewscapes and aesthetics,” and that a key objective of Industrial Way is to support the use of shipping containers for storage uses.

“I feel that it would be much better for our town, for our community, to have these shipping containers in a place where they would be used exactly for what they are intended,” she said. “I would support shipping containers in the industrial zone only.”

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