Revelstoke council gets an earful on vacation rentals

Marathon Revelstoke council meeting on May 10 dominated by vacation rental issue.

Zuzanna Driediger's legal vacation rental (which she says she is no longer running)

If anyone thinks the vacation rental issue is going away, they’re mistaken.

Revelstoke council spent more than two hours deliberating the matter last Tuesday, May 10, turning down two vacation rental applications and hearing pleas from several resident to re-think the city’s policy.

There were two public hearings for vacation rentals – one on Airport Way at the bottom of Red Devil Hill, and another on Hay Road.

First on the agenda was the public hearing to legalize a vacation rental at 2297 Airport Way. Next up was the public hearing to legalize a vacation rental at 1904 Hay Road.

Both were turned down after the neighbours said there were issues while the rentals were operated illegally this past winter, and that they shouldn’t be rewarded for applying after there were complaints.

“The reward for ignoring the rules should not be to be granted approval after the fact,” said Stan Smith, who lives next door to the property on Airport Way.

In both cases, neighbours had complaints about noise and parking. On Airport Way, they said one group set off fireworks in the middle of the night.

“They’re paying $800 per night to stay there,” said Stan’s wife Nadine Smith. “Trust me, they’ll do what they want. They’re going to feel they have the right because they’re paying the price.”

Stan Smith noted the owners of the home on Airport Way live out of town. “Whole-home, owner-absent operations like this one typically become the worst sort of vacation rental,” he said.

Over on Hay Road, Alan Pattinson said the property owners were in continued violation of city bylaws. On top of operating an illegal rental, they also advertised for up to 14 people, which is more than the bylaw allows for. There’s loud parties and parking issues.

“I have a lot of concerns over this house. It is definitely a party house,” he told council.

Both applications were rejected unanimously by council. In both cases, councillors cited the neighbourhood opposition as their reasoning.

“My policy is that if there’s significant opposition from the neighbours, then I’m not going to support it, and that’s very evident here,” said councillor Aaron Orlando.

Linda Nixon said the city had a good bylaw in place, but it needed to be enforced. “I think there are good things coming with vacation homes, but for today we need to stop,” she said.

The hearings led to a general debate on vacation rentals. Brian Tobin, who later made a scheduled presentation to council on the issue, said the city lacked a proper bylaw and lacked enforcement. He criticized the public hearing process for pitting neighbours against neighbours.

“There’s people here that thought we’d bring in some rules and that would change everything,” he said. “I’m here to tell you you don’t have any rules and you’ve made it worse.

“It is up to us a community to figure out what we’re going to do about vacation rentals.”

Criticisms of city policies were wide-ranging. Jane McNab, who lives on Shiell Road, noted that there are two vacation rentals on her street, one bed & breakfast and two black window homes.

“Because there is no plan, these vacation properties are springing up all over town and it is changing the character of neighbourhoods,” she said. “The City of Revelstoke needs to come up with plan on where they’re allowed, and how many on each street and neighbourhood.”

Eve Northmore spoke on behalf of Revelstoke Property Services, which manages numerous vacation rentals in town. The business is run by her and councillor Scott Duke, who recused himself from the debate.

She said they encourage people to contact them whenever they have an issue with one of their rentals.

“I encourage you to contact us, to meet with us and be the whistleblower of your neighbourhood,” she said. “We’re here, we’re in town, we’re on call 24 hours per day. We can address those issues right as they come to town.”

Northmore also said that vacation rentals might be preferable to the alternative, which is to have the house rented out to a large group of skiers here for the season. She added that next winter, they will be requiring all rentals they manage to collect the same taxes as hotels.

Tobin said Revelstoke should look to the model adopted in Palm Springs, California.

He gave a presentation to council based on the findings of the Cashato Bench neighbourhood group. The group was started to look at solutions to address problematic rentals in their area.

Palm Springs requires each rental to have a contact person available 24/7. They are expected to respond to phone calls within 15 minutes and arrive on scene within 45 minutes.

Renters are required to sign a contract saying they are liable for their conduct and the manager or owner of the home is required to provide a “good neighbour brochure” to let renters know what’s expected of them in terms of behaviour. There are escalating fines if the terms aren’t met.

“It doesn’t leave any grey areas,” Tobin said.

Council is expected to discuss vacation rentals again at its next meeting on Tuesday, May 24. Dean Strachan, the city’s manager of development services, is due to present a report on the issue.

“Everyone in the room knows vacation rentals have become a bigger and bigger issue, and we’re going to have to start to figure out what we’re going to do,” said Mayor Mark McKee. “That’s a decision that council’s going to do with all the information coming in.”

Editor’s note: For the photo accompanying this article, we used a screenshot of the legal rental that was run by Zuzanna Driediger this past winter. She has just informed us she has stopped running the rental. However, we are still using the photo since it was that rental that sparked Brian Tobin’s presentation to council last Tuesday, May 10.

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