Directors at the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) are concerned about the impact of short-term rentals through websites such as Airbnb, but they are not yet ready to proceed with changes to zoning bylaws.
In 2012, when the SCRD last discussed the issue, the board decided to take no action. But since then a rising number of neighbour complaints about short-term vacation rentals, plus concerns about the affordability and availability of rental housing on the Coast has caused them to revisit the issue.
At the Feb.16 meeting of the planning committee, directors received a staff report on short-term rentals which described the situation locally and outlined approaches taken across BC by other governments who are grappling with the issue. The report recommended that staff prepare amendments to regional zoning bylaws, but directors were not prepared to take that step.
According to the report, the SCRD received 15 written complaints about short-term rentals in 2016, mostly originating in Roberts Creek and Halfmoon Bay. Staff cited a Sunshine Coast Tourism estimate that there are about 250 short-term rental units locally, but Area F Director Ian Winn, who operates a B&B from his Williamsons Landing home, disagreed.
“I believe that the Sunshine Coast Tourism estimates of numbers of accommodation providers may be grossly understated because so many providers operate under the radar,” said Winn. “In 2010 there were approximately 250 providers on the Sunshine Coast. With the emergence of short term vacation rentals in the last two to three years, that total number is probably closer to 500.”
Winn also felt that the SCRD should not use the term “vacation rentals,” noting that vacations are only one reason people seek short term accommodation. Transient workers, including mill workers, health care professional, teachers, RCMP officers and business people may all have short stays on the coast.
Winn further pointed out that while previously the market was mostly B&Bs and cottages, now people can easily rent anything from an entire house to “a couch with a screen around it.”
“We shouldn’t legislate them to go away, because it’s too late for that,” said Winn. “Instead we should legislate them to become a viable part of our tourist economy but with appropriate controls and respect for community values.”
Area D Director Mark Lebbell, spoke in favour of starting with public engagement meetings similar to those held about Persephone Brewing. After discussion, directors voted to have staff create a proposed public engagement process.
Bylaw changes for short-term rentals would only affect the five rural areas of the SCRD. The municipalities (Sechelt, Gibsons and the Sechelt Indian Government District) have their own zoning bylaws.
Many municipalities in BC, including Sechelt, are requiring accommodation providers to obtain business licences. That is not an option for SCRD rural areas because the regional district doesn’t issue business licenses.