Revelstoke council puts brakes on short-term rental bylaw, will revisit it in December

Revelstoke city council has paused the short-term rental policy bylaw, scheduling further discussion for a Dec. 9 meeting. It appears that everything in the bylaw is still in play.

485
Revelstoke city council held its Nov. 9 meeting at the Revelstoke Community Centre due to a public hearing. Image: Screenshot of City of Revelstoke YouTube video of the Nov. 9 meeting

Revelstoke city council put the brakes on the city’s short-term rental policy bylaw and will revisit a list of questions and concerns at a December 9 meeting.

At its Nov. 9 meeting, council rescinded its second reading of the bylaw and scheduled more discussion for its December committee of the whole meeting. At that meeting, council will hash over the issues.

What does the proposed bylaw say? Read the text of the bylaw here. The substantive part of the policy is about two pages long, so it’s not a slog.

During an Oct. 27 public hearing, residents expressed a list of concerns about the proposed new bylaw, including criticisms of most of its main points.

Watch: Watch the Oct. 27 short-term rental bylaw public hearing here

The feedback at the public hearing was mostly from those with financial interest in existing unlicensed rentals. They complained about a 120-day rental limit, three-room rental maximum, a restriction to secondary suites only, requirements that a permanent resident lives on the property, among other complaints. In essence, they felt the new rules left them with no path forward.

Even a representative from Airbnb called in.

There were many comments at the Oct. 27 meeting, including from other parties, such as the Revelstoke Accommodation Association, which supported some aspects of the policy, but not others.

The policy’s impact on the housing crisis was a major concern for some who provided feedback. Will permitting 300 new short-term rentals in secondary suites cannibalize existing long-term rentals, exacerbating the housing crisis and labour crisis?

At the meeting, councillors expressed a potpourri of concerns and angst about the proposed bylaw. Mayor Sulz noted concerns about short-term rentals being allowed in all neighbourhoods, the secondary suite requirement, the proposed 300 cap on vacation rentals, and the 120-day limit, saying council could discuss the topics at the December meeting.

Councillor Nicole Cherlet also expressed many of the same concerns.

Watch: Nov. 9 Revelstoke city council discussion on short-term rental bylaw

The video is cued to the start of the short-term rental bylaw discussion.

Councillor Jackie Rhind asked clarification questions about the transfer-ability of licenses when a property is sold. She said it was an example of items that need clarity through further discussion.

Rhind was also concerned that the public feedback received so far was skewed towards those with a financial interest in short-term rentals and wasn’t representative of overall community concerns.

“We also have to think about all of those people who can’t necessarily put a dollar figure on [this],” Rhind said. “I just feel like the health of the community as a whole is not being looked at. … Who do these changes benefit and who wasn’t at the table?”

Councillor Tim Palmer said he’d heard multiple concerns from different parties. He wants council to review more information, including where existing unlicensed rentals are located, and that council should take a “broader view” and review policies in place in other resort communities.

Palmer also noted potential changes to provincial short-term rental policy, saying that should be considered. He added the city should address the question of where short-term rentals should be located, something the proposed first-come, first-served, capped policy doesn’t address. These were among several other concerns Palmer expressed. Palmer also raised concerns about “allegations of preferred treatment” in the process, saying a cap that is regulated by business licensing and not zoning raises fairness questions.

Although it wasn’t discussed at the meeting, theoretically a developer with a large project in the works could make a bulk grab of a chunk of the licences by simply being prepared and first in line.

“Are we doing more good or more harm?” Palmer said. “Are we hurting people or helping people in the balance of things?”

The short-term rental bylaw will be discussed again at the Dec. 9, 2021 committee of the whole meeting.

Analysis: No clear path on Revelstoke short-term rental policy yet, and the clock is ticking

Typically, a public hearing is one of the last steps before a bylaw is finalized and adopted, but in this case the bylaw has been paused for further discussion.

The outstanding issues that councillors want to review are actually the core policy points of the bylaw, meaning everything in the short-term rental policy is still in play. It has not been winnowed down to a few specific outstanding issues.

There aren’t easy fixes to specific concerns expressed at the Oct. 27 public hearing and the Nov. 9 council discussion because there are two sides to the equation with any change.

For example, removing the requirement that a permanent resident lives on the property including when the short-term rental is being rented would reduce housing availability.

Likewise, the action of amending other core requirements in the bylaw would have a reaction that impacts other community objectives, such as long-term rental housing availability.

Another complicating factor for the short-term rental policy and other major council policy objectives is the clock. These major policy initiatives include the official community plan bylaw, a housing policy, the zoning bylaw, and the development cost charges bylaw.

These were identified as the key priorities by the majority of council candidates, who had the luxury of four years to make them happen.

The next B.C. municipal elections happen on Oct. 15, 2022. At its last council meeting, council heard that progress on the development cost charges bylaw has been delayed and that it may not be completed prior to the 2022 election.

The city still doesn’t have a housing plan. Revelstokemountaineer.com has inquired a couple times over 2021 for updates on the housing plan, and staff have said the target is the end of the year. However, at the Nov. 9 meeting, staff said they’d be presenting initial reports in December.

The city’s work on the official community plan overhaul and the zoning bylaw update are ongoing and essentially happening concurrently. However, these are long and complex processes, often inter-related and completion before October, 2022, is certainly in question.

Council will feel pressure to complete these projects prior to the election so they can point to accomplishments of their term; however, completing complex policy work on a deadline raises concerns that the work and the decisions will be rushed. It also means some of them will face election-cycle politicization.

The new short-term rental policy is a change, but is it the right policy change for Revelstoke? This same question can be applied to the other major processes underway as they come closer to final proposals.

For now, council will take another look at the policy at a Dec. 9 meeting.