From community events to short term rentals and realities about opioids, housing affordability and homelessness, as well as film crews and a cultural hub proposal, there was no shortage of news in Agassiz, Harrison, and surrounding communities this year. In the days leading up to New Year 2020, the Observer is taking a look back at some of these headlines and more.
Short term rentals are officially allowed in the District of Kent.
During the council meeting last on Nov. 13, council voted to give third reading and final adoption for amendments to the zoning bylaw that would allow for not only bed and breakfasts, but also AirBnB-style rentals in the District of Kent.
“I think we’ve established it’s a step in the right direction and it’s a good start,” director of development services Darcey Kohuch said. “It’s providing some accommodation opportunities and there’s some checks and balances in there.”
The decision came after a second public hearing on the zoning bylaw, which saw more than a dozen residents from both the District of Kent and Harrison Hot Springs come out to speak both for and against the proposed changes.
Back in June, the first public hearing saw concerns from residents about how council was planning to limit the number of short term rentals in the district.
At that time, staff had recommended a limit of 50 short term rentals in all of Kent, with a maximum of two per block. However, the size of a block wasn’t defined, and staff weren’t sure of the best way to decide which homes were allowed to take priority once the limit had been reached.
To make things easier on both the district and potential AirBnB owners, staff suggested that short term rentals in homes that are not the primary residence of the owner only be allowed on lots larger than one acre.
For some of the people at the public hearing, this change was a step in the right direction, although concerns remained.
Rockwell Drive resident Jennifer Todd was largely worried that the District of Kent’s enforcement rules would leave residents in charge of policing their neighbours.
The bylaw requires that short term rentals properties need to show a 24-hour contact number for the owner, so that someone can be contacted in case of a disturbance. (Unlike bed and breakfasts, short term rentals do not need to have the homeowner on site during the rental.)
Residents can report complaints to the District of Kent and the RCMP non-emergency line.
“It still puts us in a position of reporting and enforcing compliance,” Todd said. “I get concerned about that. I get concerned because I don’t want to be put in the situation of having to police the peacefulness of my neighbourhood.”
She recommended that short term rentals be required to have staff on site at all times, much like a bed and breakfast where the property owner must be on site during the rental.
Others, like Jason Mailhot who operates The Lodge on Harrison Lake, also had concerns about not needing to have anyone on site during a rental.
“Even with my own business, if I wasn’t there, people would try to ram 16 people in one unit,” he said, adding that he was worried about enforcement, saying that “just because it (the bylaw) is in black and white, it doesn’t mean people are going to necessarily follow it.”He also had concerns about how an increased number of short term rentals could impact his own business, but noted that he wanted to be fair to those looking for a mortgage helper.
For the most part, the majority of speakers came from the Rockwell Drive area, as this spot has seen a number of illegal short term rentals come available on sites like AirBnB. Some speakers were already operating short term rentals in the area — one was opposed to the restrictions in the bylaw, saying the problem property on Rockwell Drive had already been dealt with.
Brad James, however, spoke at the public hearing about his short term rental on Lougheed Highway, and warned council against tarring all potential rentals with the same brush.
“A lot of us are just people trying to have a mortgage helper,” he said. “These are just people wanting to come and enjoy our little piece of paradise.”
"A lot of us are just wanting to have a mortgage helper." If the bylaws are just trying to appease one area, "I don't think that's fair for the rest of the District of Kent, who offer great services for people to come out."
"It's not all a free-for-all with short term rentals."
— Grace Kennedy (@gracekenn) November 14, 2019
During council’s discussion after the public hearing, mayor Sylvia Pranger noted that anyone currently operating a short term rental is doing so against the district’s bylaws, and that in order for them to continue their activities, council needed to move forward with some bylaw changes.
Councillor Susan Spaeti said she felt the district had made progress with the changes to the bylaw.
“I don’t think we can say that it’t not allowed,” she said. “It is something that is around, and I think by doing it with the rules that we have, it’s restrictive, but it’s still permissive.”
She also noted that, for those who had concerns about enforcement, business licences can be taken away.
“I feel for the one speaker who spoke about how she doesn’t want to have to be the police to her neighbours. I hope now that it’s larger properties, there will be less of them that will be problem ones,” Spaeti said.
Council voted unanimously to approve the amendments to the zoning bylaw (councillor Duane Post was away with notice).
Council also voted to approve changes to the business licence bylaw, which will see homeowners looking to add a short term rental to their property pay $500 for a licence. People who do not live on their property will need to pay $700 for a licence, in addition to going through a rezoning process to allow for the short term rentals.
Bed and breakfasts are included in the updated business licence bylaw, and will see their licence fees go up from a $125 flat rate, to $125 plus an additional $100 for each guest unit. However, because renewal letters are currently being sent out, this change won’t take place until Jan. 1, 2021.
Licence fees for short term rentals will come into effect immediately, and homeowners currently operating illegal short term rentals will be sent letters asking them to comply with the new rules.
Short term rentals continue to be banned in the Village of Harrison Hot Springs, as per the decision made in July of 2017.