Muni Morsels: Bowen passes a short-term rental policy

BIM briefs from the Nov. 25 council meeting

While most Air BnBs on Bowen Island are illegal, they won’t be for long.

Council adopted a short-term rental policy in principle at Monday evening’s regular council meeting. The policy allows for full-house short-term rentals (shorter than 30 days) but restricts renting to a maximum of 120 nights a year per unit. It also requires that all short-term rental operators obtain a business license. 

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Currently bed and breakfasts, where the operator is a resident and there are no separate kitchen facilities, are the only legal short-term rentals across most of Bowen. 

The policy says that it “details a regulatory approach to ensure STR use of an entire dwelling unit is kept secondary to the primary use of residence for the community.”

Under this policy, BIM is to allow short-term rentals of entire houses, secondary suites and detached secondary suites. Community Planner Emma Chow’s report to council says that the public prevailed on BIM to allow for short-term rental of secondary suites, a sentiment the Housing Advisory Committee supported for fear that restricting use in that way would lead owners to decommission suites (ie. take out the kitchen so that they could use the suite as a bed and breakfast.)

Two guest limit per room, ample parking, an on-island contact person and the requirement of a “good neighbour agreement” are other restrictions under the policy. BIM is also to allow bed and breakfasts on properties with secondary and detached secondary suites, a use currently prohibited. 

While the policy lays out a framework for amending bylaws to allow short-term rentals, it is not in itself regulation. Next steps for BIM include amending the Land Use Bylaw, the Business Licensing Bylaw and the Bylaw Notice Enforcement Bylaw. Staff and councillors will fine-tune the regulations and policy as they progress through the amendment process (readings, public information sessions and hearings). 

While most councillors broadly agreed with the policy, the 120-night limit was and remains a sticking point.

Chow explains in her report that the rationale behind the 120 nights is to ensure the rentals aren’t affecting the long-term housing stock. Chow called this limit the “safer approach” though acknowledged it would affect tourism and the current short-term rental operations that rent out more than 120 nights a year. In her presentation to council, Chow said at the meeting that, according to HostCompliance data collected last January, short-term rentals on Bowen average 58 nights rented out a year. The policy suggests that listings that want to operate more than 120 night a year apply for temporary use permits or rezonings. 

Like the public feedback to the 120 night limit (Tourism Bowen wants the limit lengthened, the Housing Advisory Committee wants it shortened), council reaction was mixed. 

Councillor Sue Ellen Fast questioned if 120 nights a year was too many and said she worried it could affect housing stock. Councillor Michael Kaile said that the limit would affect Bowen’s ability to host year-round tourism. Councillor David Hocking came out on the side of increasing the limit so that short-term rental owners could recoup costs of doing business.

Kaile asked to set aside the 120 night limit for a year but other councillors were concerned about having no time restrictions at all. 

While generally supportive of the policy, Mayor Gary Ander wasn’t too hopeful that it would solve Bowen’s housing woes. 

“I really don’t think that it’s going to make that much difference to long-term rental, whatever we do to short-term rental,” said Ander in the committee of the whole meeting earlier Monday. 

Councillor Alison Morse’s most voiced concern was that the policy was more of a directive than a policy. She also suggested that a more prudent way to regulate short term rentals would be to allow them all but pull business licenses after three complaints. 

While the 120 day issue wasn’t resolved, and is sure to rear its head in the bylaw-making process, in the interest of “moving this thing along” most councillors agreed to passing the policy “in principle.” 

The resolution passed five to two, with councillors Morse and Kaile opposed. 

BIM will also apply for the Municipal & Regional District Tax (MRDT) program. The up to 3 per cent tax on short term rentals is to help fund local tourism and affordable housing initiatives. 

 

The following are further briefs from the Nov. 25 council meeting:

It wasn’t an explosive discussion: Approximately 211 islanders signed a petition asking for BIM to “ban the sale and use of fireworks on Bowen Island,” said a staff report. Council opted to receive the petition but didn’t persue a bylaw at this time. 

The budget discussion was even less explosive: Chief Financial Officer Raj Hayre brought forward an amendment to the 2019 budget (all municipal spending must be authorized by bylaw). Though many of the adjustments to the budget had to do with the year’s capital works (the water treatment plant pushed back, watermain work out at Bluewater, Cardena Road widening) the document did show a $154,000 increase to the Fire and Protective Services budget “for professional consulting and legal fees.” Hayre said that this number included costs of the service review, mediation task force and legal fees for the firefighter dispute. All this spending was authorized by council in previous (mostly closed) council meetings. 

Looking at the mother bylaw: BIM will review the ten village residential properties along Miller Road, beside the ambulance station “to determine appropriate policies for future rezoning.”

The move comes after council referred an application to amend the Official Community Plan and the Land Use Bylaw to allow for the construction of a sixplex and duplex on a Miller Road lot near the ambulance station to committees for recommendations (though councillors said that the application as it stands is inadequate). 

Many councillors noted that these properties would be prime locations to add density in the Cove.

The name is self-explanatory: A conservation development policy is in the works for Bowen. The idea with conservation development is to identify and protect ecologically sensitive areas and build around them. The Advisory Planning Commission created the document and council has referred it to other relevant municipal committees. 

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