Original Published 11:42 Jun 01, 2022

By Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

One of the larger items on Crowsnest Pass council’s May 17 agenda was reviewing the draft tourist home bylaw.

The proposed set of regulations that would govern temporary rental properties popularized by companies like Airbnb and Vrbo has had extensive effort invested in it, with two public hearings and several drafts brought forward for council’s consideration.

The bylaw makes two distinctions in temporary rental properties for tourists: tourist homes, where the property owner does not live on site and rents out the entire property; and short-term rentals, where the property owner lives on the property and rents out only a portion of the property, like a secondary suite.

One of the first concerns raised at the May 3 public hearing was the proposed $2,000 business licence for a tourist home operating in residential areas. The current business licence fee for tourist homes is $750.

The increase is a way to level the playing field for other accommodation businesses because tourist homes don’t pay the same commercial property taxes.

Since tourist homes are investments to generate income for the owners, said Coun. Dave Filipuzzi, they qualify as an industry that doesn’t fit the mandate of residential zoning.

“When a person rents a tourist home and comes here for two, three days a week — really, do they care? Do they care about our bylaws? Do they care about the quality of life of the people? They’re here to do what they want to do,” Filipuzzi said.

“When they go home, they’re gone. What they’ve left behind is for us to deal with, or the owner of the tourist home.”

The question of banning tourist homes from residential zones was floated a couple times during the public hearing and related council meetings, though the suggestion raised questions of fairness.

“If we exclude them from residential, will we exclude other businesses from operating in those zones as well?” asked CAO Patrick Thomas.

Administration is also considering how the number of occupants in tourist homes and short-term rentals is measured. The draft bylaw initially set the limit according to pillows or beds on the property, with nine pillows being the maximum. Property owners would also have to provide one parking stall per three occupants.

Public feedback said a universal limit of nine pillows wouldn’t work for smaller rentals; instead, the limit should be two adults per bedroom, with children not included in the occupancy total.

Administration is looking to tweak the occupancy expectations using a combination of allowing two adults per bedroom but capping a property’s maximum at 10. The limit would be determined during the development permit process, giving some flexibility to individual properties.

Those in favour of tourist homes expressed concerns that regulating the properties would discourage investment in the community and harm many of the businesses that benefit from tourists visiting. Coun. Doreen Glavin, however, said if local businesses were worried about losing customers, more would have come to the public hearing.

“When we have a public hearing where only a couple business owners come and speak up about how the recommendations we’re proposing for the bylaw are affecting their business — the other 300-and-some-plus businesses that haven’t said anything speaks volumes to me,” Glavin said.

Coun. Lisa Sygutek said the municipality should aim to promote economic investment in the tourism sector while ensuring the quality of life for residents is maintained, but that penalties for breaking bylaws need to be severe.

“The tolerance has to be zero,” she said. “Those tourist homes that are running rampant and wrecking the quality of life of the people beside them either need to be shut down or brought into compliance in a very strong manner, period.”

On the other hand, given the complexity of the issue and the scope the bylaw was attempting to cover, enforcement would be tough, said Coun. Glen Girhiny.

“It’s going to be a wavy road,” he said. “I strongly believe we’re going to have enforcement problems. I think it’s going to be a huge burden on the taxpayer for the enforcement of this, so we’ve got to dumb it down as best we can and try to get a better grasp of this.”

Adjusting the bylaw to achieve the best outcome is administration’s focus, said CAO Thomas.

“We’ve taken some notes,” he said. “We’ll take this back, do some more drafting and schedule another check-in with council to see if we’re getting closer to the mark.”

The next Crowsnest Pass council meeting is Tuesday, June 7, 7 p.m. in council chambers.

This item reprinted with permission from Shootin’ the Breeze, Pincher Creek, Alberta