Changes to short-term rental rules are on the brink of adoption in the rural areas of the Sunshine Coast.
Directors voted unanimously to move ahead with third reading and adoption at a Sept. 10 Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) planning committee meeting.
It’s a saga that has lasted for more than eight years. The zoning amendments will mean short-term rentals (STRs) are officially defined in the SCRD’s zoning bylaws – an omission that has become increasingly glaring as the popularity of platforms like Airbnb has allowed the industry to proliferate on the Coast.
Ironically, the term “short-term rental” doesn’t actually appear anywhere in the new bylaw.
That’s because in the final iteration directors removed a provision that would have permitted offsite operators – considered the single defining characteristic of short-term rentals, according to the SCRD’s first staff report in 2012 recommending clearer rules.
Instead, the new rules tighten the definition of bed and breakfast and for the first time explicitly state “a bed and breakfast shall be operated by an operator who resides on the property” while the businesses is running.
Directors had initially settled on allowing offsite operators to run STRs as long as they applied for a temporary use permit, but after the first public hearing they changed course, opting to exclude them instead.
At the second hearing on June 30, which drew 200 people, the majority of submitted opinions – about 50 – favoured the proposed changes.
Folded into the discussion was another contentious detail – STRs would be limited to two bedrooms, with two occupants per bedroom.
There are some exceptions to that rule. If properties are zoned RU1A or RU1C in the zoning bylaw that applies to all electoral areas south of Pender Harbour, up to five bedrooms are allowed per parcel. But most of the zoning exceptions are located in Pender Harbour’s zoning bylaw – which Area F director Mark Hiltz noted during the Sept. 10 meeting. He said the disproportionate number of parcels in Pender Harbour and Egmont allowed five bedrooms could become “an equity issue.”
“Looks like the party houses are going to Area A,” he said, adding that “this is going to change the market.” He was also concerned about the ability for bylaw officers to enforce the rules.
Andreas Tize, director for Roberts Creek, who operates a tiny home as an Airbnb, also had an issue with bedrooms.“I personally think large families should be accommodated,” he said, asking whether they could add a definition of family to the bylaw.
But planning manager Ian Hall recommended against that idea, explaining that “zoning regulates property, not people.”
Chair Lori Pratt acknowledged the bylaw wasn’t perfect but it also isn’t static and could be changed if needed. “I think we need to get this done,” she said. “We have complete neighbourhoods affected by these large party homes.”
Pratt, as with Elphinstone director Donna McMahon, said it was time to focus on enforcement.
“This bylaw as currently drafted addresses the number one concern raised by the public, that residential areas are zoned for residents to live in, not for the operation of commercial ventures,” said McMahon. “It’s time for us to stop wordsmithing the bylaw and get on with the procedure to shut down the party houses that have been the source of many complaints.”