Proposed changes to the SLRD bylaw governing short-term rentals got an airing at a public meeting at the REC Centre Wednesday as regional district planners laid out the planned amendments and fielded questions and comments.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve been receiving increasing numbers of complaints associated with illegal short-term nightly rentals. We’re aware that across the SLRD the number of illegal rentals is growing,” planner Alix McKay told the dozen people who attended the meeting.
She said that in many cases homes that are zoned for single-family residential are being used for short-term rentals, which has a detrimental impact on the rental pool in the communities affected.
“It’s an overall loss of stock for long-term rentals.”
Other concerns revolved around lost neighborhood character, speeding, trespassing, parking and disturbances.
“So overall what we’re trying to do through better enforcement and some zoning amendments, we’re trying to mitigate those issues and ensure the system works for all–those that are running bed and breakfasts and neighbouring properties, everyone in the community.”
The regional district has already done an online survey on the issue, which was up from February 6 to March 7 and received 462 responses, with only 14 of those from Area B.
“So, we’re hoping through the public information meeting process as well as the questionnaire at the back of the room, to get some more input from Area B.”
McKay went on to give an outline of the survey results, key definitions surrounding the property uses, changes to those definitions following public input, proposed amendments, and details of a planned more proactive enforcement approach. She then opened the floor for questions.
Eckhard Zeidler wanted to know why details of the Area B survey responses hadn’t been separated from the larger array of comments.
“The reason I ask that is because the data presented to us this evening, in my opinion, if I may, it could have been done from survey results and so on in Santa Rosa, California. Area B has entirely different pressures on it and entirely different dynamics than area A, certainly D and very definitely Area C.”
Brad Kasselman agreed and elaborated.
“Further to that pretty obvious pressure coming from the three areas that he identified, there’s the nascent tourist industry of Area B, which doesn’t have the same pressures, arguably, as any of those other areas. You have two massive tourism and population bases (Vancouver and Whistler), it’s massive on the tourism scale and it’s spilled over into Pemberton and the pressure and complaints are very obvious and the need for this process makes a lot of sense. To paint all four areas with one brush in my opinion would kill any hope Lillooet would ever have of having a character tourism industry more than motels to service people stopping for one night and spending as little money as possible before they move on.”
Kasselman asked if there was an opportunity to have the regulations applied on an area-specific basis within the regional district considering that the complaints that triggered the changes originated in areas D and C.
“There’s a chance that it could change and that it could be more area specific. Part of the point of having consultation at this stage is to start to understand that, what are the unique conditions in each of the areas and how can we address that,” McKay replied.
Kasselman suggested a great opportunity would be missed if that didn’t happen.
“I would argue that Lillooet has a wonderful opportunity to grow beyond the one-night stopover because it has a lot to offer, unfortunately, at this point, it doesn’t offer any of that. It’s a brand-new industry, it starts here.”
McKay asked if his concern was that the proposed rezoning process would be too onerous and would discourage developments of this kind.
“Absolutely, 100 per cent,” Kasselman said.
Zeidler said there have been many reports, over decades, on lack of diverse tourism opportunities and accommodation in Lillooet.
“Certainly, things like the (Fort Berens) winery attracts a completely different kind of tourist to Lillooet than would have come here before. As that begins to increase you’re attracting a completely different tourist and you don’t have overnight space for multiple-night stays, which is the sweet spot in tourism, right now there is no other accommodation other than a tent, an RV or one of these very nice, but pretty homogenous, budget hotel rooms,” he said.
“If we put in rezoning requirements and building permit requirements… any obstacles that the regional district, through bylaw amendments, puts in the way of someone taking opportunities… you just kill them before they even get started.”
He said Lillooet is about to begin growing in this regard and must be allowed to do so, adding he doubts there has been a single complaint from Area B with regard to the issue at hand.
“When you get it, it will not kill the regional district to reintroduce these amendments.”
Jill Stainsby raised a different concern, noting every residential property developed for tourist accommodation is one less home available for local people who don’t have one.
“Obviously of no concern with regards to this proposal is the fact that any property or any part of a property that turns into an Airbnb or a short-term rental, takes that piece of property out of the rental pool in this town, and we have a huge, huge disparity between people that can get housing and people that can’t in this town,” Stainsby said.
McKay said addressing the issue of affordable housing and the impact on that of short-term rentals is one of the goals of the amendments.
Ahmed Magdy wondered if it was possible that rezoning fee could be reduced further than it already has been.
“From my point of view, it’s a still a bit high for a community that’s just started. look at it, we don’t have a lot of traffic, we’re still trying to attract new people. So what would encourage me to take $1,500 out of my pocket and there’s no guarantee that I’ll get it back. Fifteen-hundred dollars plus the expenses, plus the tax, plus the utilities… again, from my point of view it has to be lower, and as we go and see the tourism pick up then we can increase the fees.”
John McDonald, who owns the distinctive purple house on Main Street, which he plans to turn into a bed and breakfast, wanted to know if the final inspection on the building permit for extensive renovations he’s carried out will pass the muster with regard to code and permit requirements included in the amendments. Assured it would, he said he doubted that applied to the original house on the property, which is now only a third of the total footprint but is where the character comes from that makes the house a magnet for tourists. He said he suspects there are motels in town that wouldn’t pass a modern building inspection and wondered if they’d be subject to the same requirements.
“if you’re going to bring in a bylaw in that will cover all existing B&Bs, are all hotels and all existing rental accommodations going to have to come up to current code as well? I’ve invested a quarter of a million dollars so far in what we’re doing. I’m going to force that issue at that point. If you’re going to do this to me then I’m going to go to court and apply that right across the board to everybody else that’s renting accommodation for single night. And I think you’re going to get a little bit of pushback. To me this just looks like another layer of bureaucracy hampering small business.”
Tourism Lillooet president Stefan Zeidler noted again that the bureaucracy in question is likely appropriate for some areas in the regional district, but that Area B isn’t it.
“That’s really where the broad brush approach that the SLRD is taking to this really doesn’t make sense, they bylaw amendment is being proposed on the basis of complaints that are being received from communities that are at an entirely different stage in their growth as has been pointed out by a lot of people,” he said.
“Lillooet and its surroundings are at a very different stage in their growth, and to bring in an amendment like this, into this context right now, would do a lot to hamstring growth in this region.”
This argument was returned to by others in the room causing McKay to push back a bit, returning to the affordable housing point.
“The one issue that has been raised is the housing affordability, which is common across all the different areas.”
Kasselman responded that affordability isn’t so much the problem as low supply, noting that rentals are pretty affordable here if they can be found at all. He also noted that the affordability argument is less relevant to the more rural areas in question that are the jurisdiction of the SLRD.
“The rural aspect of Lillooet, once you get out of the town centre, these places aren’t destined for long-term rentals anyway. It’s more ‘is it worth investing money to bring people on to the farm to have an agri-tourist experience’, which is in high demand, this is a perfect opportunity for Lillooet if we can have the opportunity to seize the moment.”
SLRD Area B director Vivian Birch-Jones echoed that, noting she’s heard the same sentiment from the local agriculture community, including that too much bureaucracy and associated expense is exactly what isn’t needed.
“I did have a farmer speak to me yesterday, very strongly, and I did work for Lillooet Agriculture and Food briefly, and farmers are definitely interested in agriculture tourism as a potential source of income and they are cash poor,” she said.
“Some of those of those costs could be pretty prohibitive for them, and I think that would be a shame because they need the opportunity for exactly what these guys are describing. Agriculture is phenomenal here, it’s super-exciting, but nobody is cash rich. I definitely thought about now wanting to handicap that community and I certainly heard that.”
Magdy noted that a large part of the problem with rental housing availability in Lillooet is driven by BC Hydro workers occupying much of the available properties in and around town, a situation he pointed out is temporary.