Over two hours on June 28, 19 speakers and 26 written submissions came forward to Town of Gibsons Council at a public hearing on its proposed bylaw to regulate residential guest accommodations (RGA). The term RGA replaces what other Coast local governments call STR or short-term rentals.
Gibsons draft RGA bylaw received two council readings on June 21, with endorsement requiring two additional readings. Director of planning Lesley-Anne Staats noted in her introduction that the additional readings may be considered in July, but if that cannot be accommodated, they would be delayed until September, as council is not scheduled to meet during August. If adopted, the bylaw would come into force with a "grace" period to allow current STR operators to become familiar and into compliance with the new regulations.
The draft bylaw splits RGAs into two main categories or streams. Units that are on properties that have a dwelling and are someone’s primary residence for at least nine months of the year would be allowed in all residential zones, subject to annual licencing requirements. A limited number of units on parcels that are not permanent residences would be allowed, based on the issuance of a licence. Units in that stream are to be eliminated in two to five years.
The approach, according to Staats was taken to help achieve council’s primary goals of protecting long term accommodations and keeping the scale of business-type operations appropriate in residential areas. Allowing the two-to-five-year operation of non-residential RGAs was done to avoid an immediate negative "shock" to tourism accommodations. It is also designed to allow commercial operators to build additional hotel/motel/lodge rooms on appropriately zoned parcels to replace the accommodation spaces that would be lost by not allowing unhosted RGAs.
Will it hurt tourism?
More than a third of the speakers at the event also submitted written comments. That included executive director of Sunshine Coast Tourism Annie Wise, who spoke as a representative of her organization and a long-time residential renter on the Sunshine Coast. She likened the need for adjustments to the bylaw to “threading a needle” agreeing that finely-tuned regulations could help build community but that strict limits on many of the existing RGA operators would not.
“Tourism is the lifeblood of the community whether residents realize it or not,” Wise said as she asked council to seriously consider what restricting RGAs in Gibsons could mean for the local economy. In addition to putting a portion of the estimated $9.5 million spent in the community by tourists in 2021 in jeopardy, Wise said that changes being contemplated will impact the amount of Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) the tourism accommodation sector contributes annually to the Sunshine Coast Regional District. She stated those funds which are in the $90,000 range annually support the region’s affordable housing initiatives.
Another speaker reminded council that it was local residents, not tourists, who elected them, closing her remarks with the statement “tourists are important but so are we."
Talk vs. action
Public input was balanced with both opposition to and support for the proposed zoning amendment bylaw. Several people asked that more time be taken to consult with property owners who offer temporary accommodation to others on their properties.
Those views were countered by speakers who noted council had been discussing the matter since 2019 and that the subject bylaw was Gibson’s second attempt at regulating that type of property use.
Some speakers expressed the view that there was no evidence offered that restricting RGAs on properties that are not primary residences would increase the long-term rental market. Three current owners who rent out spaces on their properties through Air B&B said that they would not consider renting their units in the long-term market, and that if not allowed to continue the short-term rentals, they may be forced to sell.
In contrast to concerns voiced about how RGAs help make the foray into home ownership affordable, Coast mortgage broker, Kim Darwin said that was a "myth." She pointed out that lenders do not count potential revenue from a temporary rental as a source of income when considering mortgage financing.
The issue of consistency in regulations between Gibsons and its surrounding areas was cited as a concern for one speaker. She said it would be unfair to have people in the Town subject to more RGA regulations than neighbours that live one or two streets over into Elphinstone or Langdale.
“We need an empty home tax along with this bylaw,” another individual voiced.
While that has not been introduced, there are accompanying bylaw enforcement and business licensing amendment drafts pending, to support the RGA regulations should the zoning amendment be endorsed by council.
The public hearing came to a close in a different way than previous ones hosted by the Town. Mayor Bill Beamish did not do the "three calls for comments" that have become routine to end those events. Deputy corporate officer Tracey Hincks told Coast Reporter that while that may have been a past Town practice, such a call is not a requirement under the Local Government Act for the closing off of the comment period at a hearing.
Sechelt is slated to bring bylaw updates related to STRs forward in the coming weeks. If those bylaws are not considered at one of the three council meetings scheduled for before Aug. 4, those will also be waiting until September while that council takes a summer break from meetings.
Regulations of STR uses on properties in the Sunshine Coast Regional District were updated in 2020.