The new-ish sign outside the Modern Bakeshop & Cafe announces you aren’t allowed to tie up your dog on the street and leave it there while you do your shopping.
Some Revelstokians howl with approval; others whine and whimper in protest. Similar teapot tempests rage online as residents struggle to understand what is and what isn’t allowed in town, and exactly what the ticketbook-wielding men and women in the brown hats and orange jackets are up to.
From the perspective of someone who sits through many, many city hall meetings, I’ve found all the changes confusing, so I am guessing most in Revelstoke would.
So, I sat down with head city Bylaw Enforcement Officer Tim Luini to do a basic overview story about changes to the bylaw system over the past few years.
Here’s what I came up with:
The one overarching change is a shift to ‘proactive’ enforcement in all bylaw categories. That means the city is not just relying on complaints, but actively trying to enforce their agenda across all bylaw categories, Luini explains.
One of them is animal control. Specifically, the city is actively going after people who leave their dogs unattended downtown. It’s not a new rule, Luini explains. Residents and tourists often feel intimidated by the dogs; you know your pooch is harmless, but they don’t.
The recent wave of enforcement is an example of when a proactive system is driving change. Part of the motivation is actually dog-friendly, he notes. The City of Nelson was overrun by toque-’n’-doggers, so dogs are permanently prohibited in the downtown core there. Revelstoke doesn’t want that to happen, so they’re trying to keep the pets under control by asking owners to keep them under control at all times.
Also on the animal control front, the city renegotiated and restructured their animal control system and are taking a more proactive stance on issues like stray dogs.
The city has started a proactive ‘tracking’ chart for illegal rentals to deal with a rash of short-term rentals and non-complying bed and breakfasts.
The idea is to work with offenders to bring them into compliance. This also includes making sure secondary suites are legal and safe.
The idea, explains Luini, is to work with offenders and find solutions. “When you go to court, nobody really wins,” he says.
He adds there is sometimes confusion about what is and isn’t allowed. Basically, in non-commercial zones, all rentals must be for at least one month. The detailed bylaw is online at the city website.
You may be pessimistic that the rusting Mustang next door will ever become that restoration project your neighbour has been talking about for years, but are you ready to call city hall to complain? Do you have the heart to bring it up with your neighbour?
The city has also implemented a proactive system on unsightly premises, going after abandoned vehicles, garbage, unkempt grass and weeds.
Even when the unsightly premises calls are based on complaints, Luini notes that residents often say they talked to their neighbours about that stripped truck and they all said it was no problem.
Like the illegal rentals process, the bylaw department starts with door knocks and letters asking for compliance first.
The PT Sign issue struck a chord with Times Review readers. But the current bylaw has been in place for over three years, explains Luini. Even though the city is striving to become more proactive on bylaw enforcement, the complaints-based system still underpins the system. “It’s the fact that we got a complaint,” explains Luini of that particular episode. He didn’t write the law, but when someone complains about something that is clearly in contravention of the bylaw, he has to act.
What about always having to be the ‘bad guy’ on something like this, I ask him. “You live with it,” he says with a shrug. People may not agree with the process, but he hopes that residents can walk away with an understanding of the department’s perspective on the issues. And somebody’s got to do it.
Two years ago, the city updated many of its fees for fire-related inspections. Luini said not much was new other than those updates, and that the bylaws are overhauled all the time.
Again, this bylaw was also modernized about two years ago. The old bylaw was extremely dated and sought to clamp down on things like rambunctious piano parlours.
Backyard chickens aren’t a bylaw category in their own right, but they illustrate how bylaws change.
Luini explains that backyard coops are prohibited, but the department is working on a bylaw that could possibly allow them in some neighbourhoods. He said the process got started when chicken advocates came down and talked to him about it. He suggests starting with the bylaw department is a good way to get the ball rolling on proposed bylaw changes.
There are lots of challenges related to allowing chickens in residential neighbourhoods — bears, coyotes, noise, animal welfare and health issues. A staff member is working on it now, Luini says. “How do we allow it so it is safe for everybody involved?” is the question.
He’s already seen bears tear through coops and poultry owners who were unaware that cocks and hens are both yellow and fuzzy when they hatch. Some become rooters. “They guy will [learn] at 4 o’clock in the morning,” Luini jokes.
What is the bylaw, exactly?
The City of Revelstoke’s new website has links to all of their bylaws online. If you are unsure, you can read them yourself. Likewise, Luini encourages anyone with questions to come down to city hall and speak with representatives from the department.