Muni Morsels: short term rentals and Islands Trust requisition stir up some controversy

The following are briefs from the Sept. 30 regular council meeting.

The following are briefs from the Sept. 30 regular council meeting

The housing paradox

It’s a pickle of a problem and one not unique to Bowen. Towns want tourism dollars to support the local economy. Tourists need places to stay but those spaces are also needed for the staff to work said businesses and destinations and to maintain economically diverse populations. Some argue those spaces wouldn’t be available for long-term rent anyway, others argue they would. 

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So what do you do if you’re an island without a hotel, with an established seasonal population, with a booming illegal Airbnb presence (the only non-commercial, non-retreat short-term rentals currently allowed on-island are bed and breakfasts) and a housing crisis? 

To address the long-standing problem, Bowen Island Municipality is in the process of developing a short-term rental (STR) policy that moves beyond blanket prohibition. BIM has been conducting community engagement on the subject since February. Monday evening Community planner Emma Chow presented the first draft of the policy to council. 

Key points of the policy include requiring that short-term rentals have business licences, limiting rental of entire dwellings (not B&Bs) to 120 days of a calendar year, allowing “limited kitchen facilities” in B&B accommodations and not allowing short-term rental of secondary suites. (The idea is that secondary suites can be used for long-term rental whereas entire dwellings may be rented while the owners are on vacation.) The idea of entire-dwelling rentals is they would be seasonally used by the owner and seasonally by renters. 

These rentals would also have to enter into a yet-to-be-written “good neighbour agreement.” Under this STR policy, BIM would also apply for the Municipal and Regional District Tax program, which applies a tax of up to three per cent on each rental, those funds then used for local tourism and housing initiatives. 

Chow noted that in the 2018 Island Survey, lack of long-term rental housing was the top housing challenge for the island. She said that that the community feedback had shown the most concern with rentals of entire dwellings while B&B’s were the most favoured form of STR. Chow said  that considerations of fairness, mitigating negative impacts on community and a “residents first” approach went into drafting the plan. 

A sticking point for councillors and members of the public who spoke at the head of the meeting, was the nature of entire-dwelling rentals. 

Former municipal councillor Nerys Poole said she thinks that allowing any seasonal rental of  single-family dwellings and rental of properties with secondary suites (the suite itself wouldn’t be allowed to be rented, but the main dwelling could be) would be a mistake. Poole was concerned about noise and disruption from these rentals as well as impact on housing stock. 

“I think this bylaw has been drafted to represent the interests of a very few on the island,” she said.

Chair of Tourism Bowen Island, Joan Vyner, on the other hand, was concerned with the “arbitrary number of STRs nights” (120 days). 

“This limitation on rental nights may be detrimental to the accommodation providers,” she said. 

Vyner said that when it comes to the tax and the rest of the policy, Tourism Bowen is in support. 

Among councillors, the 120 day limit was an issue, but from opposing perspectives –– Councillor Sue Ellen Fast said that it “seems like a long time.” 

Councillor Michael Kaile, however, said that from a hospitality or tourism point of view, it will be argued that 120 days makes  “little or no sense.” 

Mayor Gary Ander, after noting that it’s early days for this policy said that he’s got a problem with the 120 day limit.  

“The rest of the year isn’t much good to anybody, might as well be renting it out,” he said, calling the limit “a little restrictive.” 

The policy was referred to the Community Economic Development Committee, Housing Advisory Committee and public open house for comment.

Trust tax

In the ongoing discussion over Bowen’s Islands Trust tax, council voted five to two (Fast and Councillor Maureen Nicholson against) to authorize Kaile, Fast and Ander to engage in discussions with Trust chair Peter Luckham about the requisition formula. (Kaile and Fast are Bowen’s Island Trustees). 

Kaile said that this resolution was just a means of opening talks between parties and something Luckham had requested before discussing the matter. 

“[Luckham’s] very keen to open up a negotiation on this,” said Ander. “And he  said it might go beyond the present parameters. Who knows.”

“He’s very keen to have us settle this, or at least be happy with our lot in the Trust,” said Ander.

 “What was really important to [Luckham] is that approved by his exec. and approved by our council, would be something jointly agreed, he could then take to the minister,” said Kaile.

Fast raised the Trust’s three-part report analyzing Bowen’s tax levy from the Trust’s administrative services director Julia Mobbs. (Mobbs presented the final part of the report  to the Trust council two weeks ago). Mobbs’ analysis found no “inappropriate” expenditure allocations in Bowen’s requisition. The report hasn’t yet appeared on the BIM council agenda. 

Ander and Kaile said that the discussions they want to open go beyond this report, they want to discuss changing the requisition formula. 

“Obviously the formula that we have, this is the conclusion. It doesn’t make a lot of people really happy,” said Ander. Ander had also noted earlier in the meeting that he told Luckham that Bowen doesn’t want to leave the Trust.

“Whereas all this work has been done by the Islands Trust already and it’s shown no unfairness, and this proposal is about engaging in discussions about fairness, I think it’s a waste of time,” said Fast. 

No waves here

There wasn’t even a ripple as council passed Bowen’s Tsunami Hazard and Risk Assessment. The report prepared by John Clague, a professor of earth sciences at Simon Fraser University, said that tsunamis triggered by earthquakes do not pose a risk to Bowen. 

“While a tsunami generated by a great Cascadia earthquake would probably be very large along the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island, it would diminish to a series of small waves less than one to two metres in height in the Salish Sea and Howe Sound, and thus would not affect homes on Bowen Island,” said the report. 

However, there is potential for damage from even small tsunamis to marinas, docks and boats along the shoreline.

The report said that the only credible tsunami source for Bowen would be a rock slide into Howe Sound, the probability of which is low. 

Clague came to these conclusions after analysing the geological record, historical tsunamis and current research. 

 

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