Fernie council was packed on Tuesday night for a public hearing on the city’s proposed short term rental bylaw.
Residents, short term rental owners and local business people came out in scores to voice their support and concern for the regulations.
While the majority of those who spoke applauded the municipality for attempting to come up with some sort of solution to the growing issue of long term housing availability, many urged council to re-think one clause.
The proposed bylaw is set to exclude secondary suites, like garden units and basement apartments from being used as short term rentals.
Under this, those who want to rent out short term would have to remove the stoves from these suites.
“I urge you to reconsider this bylaw as it stands,” said Simon Howse, owner of Parastone developments and the The Fernie Hotel, which rents out rooms on a short-term basis. He explained that the secondary suite clause will restrict a number of homeowners who would not be interested in offering up their suites long term. “They really want to have their home available when their friends and guests come to stay.”
Gordon Sombrowski, executive director of the Park Place Lodge congratulated council on their efforts.
“I think you have come up with a reasonable solution,” he said. “The reality is those units should be available for long term rentals.”
Del Cleland, President of the Strata Council for Fernie 2286, also commended council for the bylaw. Strata is the owner of the Stanford, which acts as a hotel and has special zoning to allow for short term rentals.
“We wholeheartedly support continued efforts,” he said.
Paul Arcoite, owner of the Urban Settler says that he has a secondary suite in his home that he has no intention of renting out long-term.
“It would be inventory taken off the market,” he said, “You’re taking away valuable tourist accommodation.”
He echoed what other residents mentioned, saying that one of the main issues that’s not being addressed is the need for staff housing for those who come to Fernie for the winter to work at the resort.
“I don’t think you can social engineer a problem like this,” said Arcoite. He said that it’s onerous for private homeowners to provide adequate housing in town to accommodate the approximately 500 employees that come to town.
“I don’t want to be staff accommodation for the ski hill,” he said, “and I’m not going to be.”
Troy Nixon said the bylaw will cause less availability of short term rentals, and people will go to other nearby ski towns instead.
“People are just going to go to Revelstoke,” said Nixon. “They’re going to go to Kimberley.”
Former councillor Dan Cox stood up as well.
“Public consultation…maybe is not the right word for what we’re doing here,” he said, noting that the decision has already been made about the bylaw, suggesting it was merely a lip service because the bylaw is so far along. He noted that there is a great number of staff hours invested in the bylaw as it stands.
“I can’t believe that we’re trying to regulate the business of the citizens of Fernie,” he said, quoting Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s famous line about staying out of the bedrooms of Canadians, adding that the municipal government has no right meddling in who they rent their bedrooms to and how.
As the public input portion closed, Mayor Mary Giuliano expressed how difficult a decision this is for council.
“We had expectations that it would have been resolved last year,” she said. The process has also consumed a great deal of staff time, with other projects being put on the back burner.
“It isn’t perfect…I know it hurts some people,” she said. “I really regret the people that it is going to hurt right now.”
Under the Official Community Plan (OCP), there is distinct clause saying that secondary units, in the form of garden suites, basement and in-law suites are to be prohibited from short term rentals.
“The message I’m hearing tonight,” said Coun. Dan McSkimming, “secondary suites should be allowed.”
Council voted to pass the bylaw in it’s current form, which will come back to council at the next meeting for the final approval. The bylaw will also need to be approved by the Ministry of Transportation.
They will then go forth with plans to revise the OCP to explore allowing secondary suites for short term rentals, which staff have been directed to bring forth a report on for the Oct. 23 meeting.