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Short-term rental ban idea for Bowen secondary suites shelved

Secondary suite bylaw changes now keeping focus on size and siting
Muni Hall
Bowen Island Municipal Hall

The option to use secondary suites for short-term rentals has gotten a reprieve – for now.

A bylaw amendment seeking to address several rules dealing with secondary suites, both attached and detached, recently went through consultation by committees and the public. Of the main changes – removing the minimum lot size necessary to build a detached secondary suite, increasing the maximum size of these suites, and banning their use for short-term rentals (also known as residential guest accommodation, RGA) – the latter point drew the greatest pushback.

Attendees at both a virtual and in-person open house expressed strong opposition to banning RGA in secondary suites. The same sentiments were common in letters received by the municipality, and the Housing Advisory Committee was also against the suggestion.

Following this feedback staff decided to scrap the proposed RGA ban, and instead focus on the more technical aspects of the bylaw for now.

But manager of planning and development Daniel Martin says this won’t be the end of the discussion.

“Staff remain concerned that current RGA permission is having, and will continue to have, a negative impact on housing availability on Bowen Island,” he said in his report to council June 27.

Martin suggested a full review is due of Bowen’s short-term rental policies, similar to a project recently undertaken in Sechelt. He asked this review to be sent to council’s 2023 strategic planning session, which was later approved.

Short-term rentals prove hard to dissuade

Chief administrative officer Liam Edwards echoed Martin’s concerns over short-term rentals. “Talking with my colleagues in other communities, they absolutely feel the proliferation of short-term rentals has a negative impact on the long-term rental supply.”

“If you have any experience with the rental market on Bowen, you will run up against short-term rentals. And you will come up against people that are willing to rent to you, but you have to get out, or you have to pay the rate they would get from short-term rentals. It’s very challenging, and it’s likely to get worse if the regulations allow for it,” says Edwards, who also endorsed a full review of Bowen’s practices.

There’s currently 59 licenced or pending short-term rentals active on Bowen, since the municipality legalized RGA use in 2020. Of the completed ones, 37 are in primary dwellings, 14 in attached secondary suites, and six in detached secondary suites. No existing short-term rentals would be affected by any future rule changes; they would only apply to new builds.

Councillors also expressed worries over Bowen’s current RGA permissibility. “RGA use means there’s less rental for long-term residents,” said Coun. Sue Ellen Fast.

“That’s great that people gave us their public input, but I suspect that those are homeowners. And I’m more concerned right now about the renters and the staff that we need on Bowen Island,” added Fast.

Coun. David Hocking said he’s “very worried about what Liam said (re: short-term rentals), and staff feel that there is an impact and it does reduce rentals.”

But Hocking agreed with the housing committee’s view that allowing short-term rentals will ultimately promote secondary suite construction. “This is something new that might happen and this allows that to – by the greater incentive for things to be built. I guess I’m supporting this, but I’m struggling with it.”

Coun. Alison Morse agreed an RGA ban would dissuade new property owners. “By having that restriction, you’re probably not going to see the accessory buildings built.”

Between 2016-2021, 14 detached suites and 32 attached suites have been built on Bowen.

Council voted 4-1, with Fast in opposition, to set aside the short-term rental ban for the time being. Councillors Rob Wynen and Michael Kaile were absent.

The other bylaw amendments remained unchanged: getting rid of the minimum lot size for a detached secondary suite – previously 0.36 hectares – and increasing the maximum floor area for a detached secondary suite to 140 square metres – previously 115 square metres.

A line was also added to address where new detached secondary suites can be situated. “The siting of the detached secondary suite,” will join other factors such as stairs, windows and decks when applying for a development permit.

Martin explains this means building a detached suite closer to your existing house than to a neighbour’s property, when possible.