The Coast's divide over short term rentals (STR) has been on full display as District of Sechelt consults over proposed regulation updates.
Sechelt completed a set of online community check-ins on proposed updates on March 1 and meeting to meeting, the shift in tone and opinion was vast.
Municipal communications manager Lindsay Vickers provided Coast Reporter with some early data from the public engagement process. She reported via email that Sechelt had hosted four meetings with between 40 to 60 people registered for each. She also released some of the self-reported details on where meeting participants resided. The reported home base of the participants appears to have set the tone for the different sessions.
Coast Reporter attended sessions on Feb. 23 and Mar. 1 and heard a range of views from participants, with discussion at both meetings dominated by STR operators. Some were appreciative of efforts to resolve issues being experienced by having “for-profit” temporary accommodation operations in residential neighbourhoods and next door to long-term residents. Others voiced outrage over proposals for regulation changes for all STRs based on complaints filed against a few.
“Basically, this is not a feedback request, you have made up your mind,” one individual posted on the question forum of the Feb. 23 meeting. That same individual encouraged all STR hosts to visit their AirBnB Host Community if they wish to be part of an organized response to the District as stakeholders in the input process. At the Feb. 16 Sechelt Council meeting, Coun. Alton Toth reported that council members had been receiving multiple copies of form letter type emails from groups of property owners on the subject.
Vickers commented in her email that the sessions held on Feb. 23, saw greater participation by fulltime Sechelt residents voicing concerns about the disruptions and inequities introduced by allowing commercial type accommodation facilities in residential neighbourhoods. In providing a summary on the input process to date at the Advisory Planning Commission (APC) meeting on March 1, Sechelt’s director of planning Andrew Allen said that some people are understandably upset with living adjacent to an STR “where every night is Friday night.”
“A person called in (to his office) with an inquiry about purchasing 10 houses in Sechelt for STRs, and that was a bit alarming,” Allen told the APC. He explained that council’s goal with the initiative is to update regulations for those operations in keeping with what they believe represent the community interests that they have heard expressed, with the top two priorities being neighbourhood fit and protection of long term rental supply.
A major concern raised by STR owners during the input sessions revolved around how changing regulations for their operations will help address the shortage of long-term rental accommodations on the Coast. “We need numbers, Mr. Allen” one attendee posted, challenging Sechelt’s director of planning to provide further explanation. Several owners stated that they had no interest in putting their properties into the long-term rental market, citing difficulties faced by landlords governed by the Residential Tenancy Act. Some stated that they only rented in the STR market when their units were not being used by family or friends, making long term rental of the spaces difficult.
The input sessions were hosted by Odete Pinho of EcoPlan International, the consulting firm engaged by Sechelt to help with the process of updating of its STR regulations, which were adopted in 2005. At both sessions attended by the Coast Reporter, Pinho extended the online meeting past its scheduled end time to allow for more questions from the participants.
Pinho launched both evening’s discussions reviewing background on STRs in the district and how that activity has increased in the past three years. Based on input received in 2020, Pinho stated that Council has heard the there is a desire to move from having STR regulations that are more permissive when compared to those in other locations towards a higher level of regulations. Pinho said the idea is to “move the dial to the right a bit” and “more towards the centre of the scale” but not introduce regulations that are as restrictive as in some communities.
Summarizing the consultation process, Vickers wrote, “We aim to get as many people engaged as possible as these are decisions that may directly or indirectly affect them. We have already heard from many people who represent a variety of different groups. Everyone has an important perspective when it comes to STRs in the District of Sechelt. The input gathered through the meetings, survey and direct letters will all be taken into consideration to either confirm the current draft regulations or re-shape them. In terms of regulations, the end goal is to come up with regulations that set out clear by laws that will guide STRs in Sechelt. When it comes to public participation, our end goal is to collect as much feedback as possible, involve as many people that we can and come to a place where people feel the process was fair.”
Views raised in the four sessions and input from a 24-question public survey on Sechelt.ca that is open until Mar. 14 will be summarized in a report to council, with a goal of having more current rules for STRs in place by 2023.