Revelstoke council has chosen to postpone opting into B.C.’s latest legislation around short-term rentals, citing a need for further investigation.
As a resort municipality, Revelstoke was exempt from the principal residence feature of B.C.’s new Bill 35, the Short-Term Rental Accommodations Act, unless the city chose to opt in.That legislation – made official in October – aims to address the strain placed on the housing stock by ballooning short-term rentals (STRs) that can price residents out of housing and contribute to an already bleak housing crisis.
When the province announced the bill, Revelstoke said that it would explore the possibility of opting in. However, since the council has voted on Jan. 9 to postpone opting into the primary residence feature of the Short-Term Rental Accommodations Act until staff have more time available to do a complete analysis of the implications of opting in.
So, why didn’t the city opt into the stipulation?
Simply put, there are too many other projects that the city is working on to make an informed decision that effectively accounts for all the positive and negative, intended and unintended, consequences, explained planning lead Paul Simon. He said the department wanted to make sure it was “done in the right way, not the fast way.”
“I usually like to do one big project a year and one small project and we have 13 projects.”
Of the 13 projects the planning department is juggling, Simon said the main two are the heritage management plan and the comprehensive bylaw rewrite. The latter was the biggest reason why the city couldn’t take on more work.
Revelstoke’s outdated bylaws
Foregoing taking on new, powerful, legislation in favour of updating may seem like an odd choice at the outset, but Simon helped to explain why it made more sense to do it this way — starting with a look back at Revelstoke’s bylaw history.
For reference, when the zoning bylaw was first introduced in 1956, the Prime Minister of Canada was Louis St. Laurent and Elvis Presley had his first hit single “Heartbreak Hotel.”
But perhaps more importantly for this topic, Revelstoke had a population of roughly 3,500 people.
Since then, the local government would repeal and replace the bylaws as needed every five to eight years, but they were rarely much different from the original.
“It was more or less a rehashed version of the previous one,” he said. That process kept up until 1984, when major changes to bylaw ceased, keeping mostly the same ones in their existing form until 2022.
That’s when the City of Revelstoke began phase one of its comprehensive bylaw rewrite.
Simon argued 40 years is already a long time to have gone without significant bylaw changes. But given the amount of rewriting that the city is doing with the current project, comparing it to the introduction of the bylaws in the 1950s is a more accurate depiction of the update.
“You won’t have seen as big of a zoning update, as we’re proposing right now until you go all the way back to 1956 when the zoning bylaw was originally brought into the city.”
How this relates to opting into Bill 35
The city’s comprehensive rewrite of the zoning bylaws includes analyzing everything from zoning to property setbacks to permitting small agricultural pursuits in the city. In short, it’s a broad-sweeping review of bylaws affecting a variety of sectors, making it difficult to add additional legislation while the rewriting is still underway.
“It’s like you have one subcontractor doing your foundation and then you’re bringing in another one to do your roof, but you don’t actually have the frame of the building in place.”
To include the primary residence feature, significant amendments would be tacked on to the city’s already-long list of bylaw rewrites.
Without having the existing bylaws fleshed out and rewritten, adding the provincial legislation would have only complicated the project itself and made the rollout for the public even more confusing.
In 2022, the city passed several STR bylaws that took a municipal approach to controlling them. Bylaws were passed to contain STRs to certain areas of the city where they could be accommodated and not an imposition.
The primary residence stipulation in Bill 35 is a “floor” for legislation, meaning municipalities could add to it, but do not have the option to make it more lenient. Packed with several features aimed at controlling STRs, the principal residence stipulation was among the strongest features with the capacity to immediately force investment property owners to return their properties to the market.
If the city had opted into the primary residence feature, it would have overwritten the work the municipal government had already done. Places where STRs were in controlled operation would be forced to shut down and the rest of the city would be open to new STRs where they previously were not allowed.
With many of the minute details of the legislation coming out over the holidays and the deadline for opting into the feature in 2024 set for Feb. 29, city staff said it had neither the time nor the resources to adequately analyze the implications of opting in.
Whether residents are fond of them or not, STRs are already baked into the community of Revelstoke. Simon said he understood the position some have that STRs should be further controlled, or even eliminated, but he cautioned of how that would effect the community.
“Everyone who’s in favour of [banning STRs] is going to have one person that they know that’s negatively impacted that they wouldn’t have wanted to be negatively impacted,” he said.
Simon estimated that to do a proper analysis of the effects of opting in – such as the economic impact, bylaw rewrites, public consultation – not only does the city not have enough time before the deadline, they also haven’t set aside the more than $40,000 it would take to do so.
However, the primary residence stipulation is available to opt in on an annual basis, giving the city a year to examine the feature and then decide.
Chief among the priorities for their decision is getting feedback from the public, which is scheduled for next month.
Simon invited anyone who wants to learn more about the current and future status of STRs in Revelstoke to go to the Revelstoke Community Centre on Feb. 6 from 6–8 p.m., where the city will be hosting an information session.