Prioritizing business licensing over zoning when it comes to regulating short-term rentals was the preferred approach of Sicamous’ planning and development committee.
Discussion at the April 13 committee meeting revolved primarily around the yet-to-be-approved Zoning Bylaw 1000, intended to provide regulation around the rental of dwelling units for periods of less than 30 days as accommodation for tourists, the travelling public or seasonal residents.
In a March 9 memo, district staff noted the proposed bylaw will clearly define zones where short-term rentals will be permitted, and also require: a business licence, the provision of off-street parking, a local person with authority to respond to complaints, and a maximum occupancy of two adults per bedroom.
“When we talk to people, we’re like, get a business licence. Let’s start it there,” commented district development services manager Scott Beeching, noting the district has received some business licence applications. “(Fire Chief) Brett (Ogino) and I have gone and done some inspections to make sure the units can actually accommodate that. We’re asking that they show us the parking, the number of bedrooms they’re using… If there are stratas involved, the stratas are going to have to approve what they want to do.”
Beeching said staff have been asked what the district’s goal is with the bylaw. One, he said, is providing a “level playing field” for businesses – hotels and motels – and also for residents.
“If someone buys a home in a residential neighbourhood, they should have the right to know who is going to be next door, if it’s going to be a short-term rental or not,” said Beeching, adding the biggest rental-related concerns in the residential zones are noise and parking.
After council discussed the bylaw at its April 6 meeting, councillor and committee chair Jeff Mallmes said he heard from, and was visited by, several short-term rental operators. One of their main concerns was having to rezone their properties. With his own concerns around rezoning and how applications would take up staff and the committee’s time, Mallmes suggested the district just allow short-term rentals throughout the community and deal with them through the business licences. Mallmes said those he spoke with had no issue with a tiered licensing fee – a lower cost for those who live onsite or in town, and a higher fee for out-of-town owners. The owners also impressed upon Mallmes they’d never go back to renting long-term.
“They’ve all done long-term rental and will never go back to it again because the province of B.C. is totally asinine in the regulations for the person that owns the piece of property and what the renters rights are,” said Mallmes. “And I can totally, 100 per cent agree with them. There are a lot of good renters but there’s 10 per cent of them that aren’t good…
“The idea that we’re going to gain some housing here some place by coming in with this regulation is, I said that at the meeting, it’s a pipe dream. It’s never going to happen.”
Mallmes also suggested properties of out-of-town owners be overseen by local property management.
Other committee members supported Mallmes’ suggestions, though there were concerns about particular locations in the community, including the downtown – where an affordable housing project is being planned.
“I would rather have long-term rentals in that building and all of downtown because that’s what’s going to revitalize your downtown,” said Mallmes.
With zoning, district planner Sarah Martin cautioned once you’ve permitted something in a zone, it’s really difficult to take it back.
“If you blanket zone the whole town – you know what, short-term rentals allowed everywhere – if there are problems you want to start scrabbling back, that’s pretty much impossible to do,” said Martin. “So here’s what I wonder, maybe there’s another way it could be trialed without doing anything through the zoning bylaw… Perhaps (council) chooses to not enforce the bylaw for a period of time and just require business licences, and see how it goes as a means of collecting data.”
Information about Bylaw 1000 can be found on the district’s website.
For current and prospective short-term rental operators concerned about Bylaw 1000, expected to be adopted in June, committee members advised applying for a business licence and otherwise consider waiting until June 1 when staff will have a better idea of what it will look like.
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