A number of properties in the District of Kent are listed on Airbnb, a short-term vacation rental website. The District of Kent will be conducting research and consulting the public on the rentals before making any decisions on regulations.

Public gets new opportunity to comment on short term rentals in Agassiz

Decisions on business licence fees, fines and the minimum lot size for STRs are up for discussion

Residents in the District of Kent will get another chance to provide their input on what short term rentals should look like in the community.

In council Wednesday (Oct. 16), staff brought forward new amendments to the zoning and business licence bylaws governing short term rentals (STRs), outlining how much the district can charge for business licences and fines, as well as how to better regulate the number of rentals in the community.

“Council and staff had the opportunity to hear from the public, and we looked at some other ideas that could strengthen the language,” director of development services Darcey Kohuch said during council.

Back in June, around a dozen residents came out to Kent’s public hearing on short term rentals to share their concerns around AirBnB-style rentals, particularly on Rockwell Drive.

RELATED: Approval for AirBnB-style rentals in Kent delayed after public hearing

The main concerns centred around the number of short term rentals that could come into the area as a result of the regulation changes. At that time, staff had recommended a maximum of 50 short term rentals in the district, including 25 in the Agassiz townsite, and wanted to limit the number of STRs to two per block.

However, there was no definitive answer on how big a block would actually be, and no clear way of moving forward if there was more than one STR applicant on a block.

At the time, council gave the zoning bylaw first and second reading, but decided to delay third reading and final adoption to give staff time to come up with some answers to those questions.

In council Wednesday, Kohuch said that staff decided to move away from restricting the number of short term rentals, and instead make it so STRs where the property is not the owner’s principal residence have to be on a one-acre lot or larger. (These properties will still have to go through a rezoning process.)

According to a staff report, the district has seen an increase in illegal STRs, particularly along Rockwell Drive. Many of these rentals are not the principal residence for the owner, and most of the complaints are from a few properties where the owner is absent and hard to get a hold of.

Making sure STRs that are not the principal residence of the owner are on one-acre lots or larger would help reduce impacts, such as noise, on neighbouring properties and make it easier for staff to enforce. There would be no minimum lot size for properties that are the primary residence of the owner, and no cap on the number of STRs in the community.

Council voted unanimously to approve the updated zoning bylaw by rescinding the original second reading, and then giving it second reading with the new lot size updates.

“It’s important for tourism to bring (STRs) into our district, and I think by starting with having a one-acre size for the non-principal, it does answer some of the some of the requirements people are wanting, but it’s not making so it’s going to have neighbours right next to it,” councillor Susan Spaeti said. “So I think it’s a nice balance of allowing short term rentals in the district.”

The public will still get a chance to comment on the changes at a public hearing on Nov. 13 at 6:30 p.m. After the public hearing, council will decide whether to give the bylaw third reading and adopt it.

Residents will also get a chance to comment on changes to the business licence bylaw, which addresses many of the concerns raised in the district’s initial public engagement last winter.

RELATED: District of Kent on track to allow short term rentals

The bylaw outlines the responsibilities of the operator for a short term rental, including designating a responsible person to be available 24-hours a day to respond to guests or any complaint.

These complaints can come from the district or members of the public, and must be addressed within two hours, or they will be subject to a fine of $250. The responsible person must have their contact information displayed inside the rental, and they must provide a parking plan that complies with parking requirements from the zoning bylaw.

The fines for non-compliance range between $250 (failing to display information on the responsible person, updating their information and attending the residence within two hours) and $500 (operating STRs without a licence or while a licence is suspended, or operating it contrary to the zoning bylaw).

The $500 fine is the maximum penalty a local government can give.

The business licence itself will be considerably more expensive than the average licence in the district.

Licences for bed and breakfasts, which have been renamed Short Term Commercial Accommodation (Guest Unit) to better match other STR definitions, will be $125 for the first bedroom, and an additional $100 for each bedroom after that. B&Bs can have a maximum of four bedrooms available for guests, with a fifth bedroom required for the operator, who must be on site.

STRs that are the principal residence of the owner will be required to pay $500 for the licence, while non-principal residences will pay $700.

“Based on experience, even though so far the only one we permit at this time is bed and breakfasts, we already deal with a lot of complaints and concerns in regards to illegal short term rentals,” Kohuch said. “So staff feels these fees are warranted for the amount of time we currently spend and anticipate spending on licence applications and enforcement.”

Staff also touched on how they would enforce the updated bylaw if adopted, saying that they would write letters to the existing illegal operations outlining their new options for having a short term rental. If the businesses continued to operate illegally, they would be ticketed daily.

Council voted to give the business licence bylaw changes first, second and third readings Wednesday night. The public will be able to provide submissions to council before they decide on whether to adopt the bylaw.



grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com

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