Updated: Councillor Scott Duke blasted for managing illegal vacation rentals

Gary Starling says Scott Duke has "no respect or concern for the bylaws he's expected to uphold," in address to council.

Former councillor Gary Starling addresses the current council about vacation rentals.

Former councillor Gary Starling addresses the current council about vacation rentals.

Councillor Scott Duke was taken to task for managing an illegal vacation rental during a public hearing on Tuesday.

“It’s disturbing to me that several vacation rentals are still operating without going through due process and licensing and inspection. In this case it’s even more disturbing as the house in question is being operated by a company that is run by a city councillor,” said Gary Starling during a public hearing. “To me this shows this councillor has no respect or concern for the bylaws he’s expected to uphold. I ask you – what message does this send to the community?”

Starling, who was on the council that adopted the current vacation rental bylaw, was speaking about an application to legalize a vacation rental at 305 Fourth St. East.

The application was rejected by council after numerous neighbours wrote letters and got up to speak in opposition to the application. “They’re not a good neighbour to me and they’re not a good neighbour to the city,” said Jeff Colvin, who lives next door.

Photo: Councillor Scott Duke. ~ File photo

The vacation rental is being operated by Duke’s business, Revelstoke Vacation Rentals, and has taken bookings this winter despite the fact it wasn’t legal.

Mayor Mark McKee responded to Starling about why the rental was being tolerated before it was re-zoned. The mayor said they weren’t going after properties that were attempting to become legalized.

“(Duke) is encouraging anybody that’s not legal to go through the process. I think that he’s doing it the right away,” said McKee. “I’m not here to defend him, I’m here to explain the process we’re involved in.”

The exchange between the two men continued, with Starling questioning where that policy came from.

“This vacation rental as it sits right now is operating illegally, outside of the bylaw, and that’s OK?” asked Starling.

“Yes,” answered McKee.

Duke recused himself from the discussion – like he does for all vacation rental debates – so it was left to his partner Eve Northmore to defend the homeowner in front of council. She said he took efforts to upgrade the home and follow the bylaws before making it a vacation rental.

“This community is changing and it has changed over the years and there are a lot of different parts that are scary and caused some grief,” she told council. “It is scary and we don’t know exactly what it going to look like, but you made a bylaw and encouraged a lot of people to pay, to upgrade their house and come forward and meet every requirement that you’ve asked of them, and they’ve done so.”

Despite that, council listened to the neighbourhood and turned down the application.

The Revelstoke Vacation Rentals website lists 21 properties inside city limits (a screenshot is above). The Review compared the list to the city’s list of approved vacation rentals and its list of active business licenses.

Of those advertised, five are on the list of approved vacation rentals, one is a licensed bed & breakfast, and another is in a commercial zone and is licensed as a hotel. One is a member of the Chamber of Commerce and is listed on the chamber website as a bed & breakfast, but isn’t on the list of business licenses provided by the city.

As for the rest, at least two had their re-zoning applications rejected by council. Some are in commercial zones but don’t have business licenses, others are in residential areas but don’t have the proper-zoning, and a few we’re not sure of because their addresses are hidden.

Duke & Northmore own two vacation rentals on Cedar Street that are both zoned and licensed.

Starling said Duke was part of the problem with vacation rentals, and that council was complicit by allowing him to continue operating.

“As a councillor he should lead by example. Integrity is something that should happen not only when you’re in the spotlight, but when nobody else is looking. Obviously, that’s not the case here,” said Starling. “It’s patently unreasonable to think a councillor should be able to operate outside the bylaws and he’s clearly not working to help formulate these bylaws and uphold them.”

When asked about Starling’s accusations, Duke said he didn’t want to respond. When asked why his company continued to operate illegal vacation rentals, Duke didn’t answer.

“There is no way I’m talking to you Alex. I answered as a friend but I have to let you go,” he said before hanging up.

Following the meeting, there were calls on social media for Duke to step down. Allan Chabot, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, said that violating city bylaws was not grounds to be kicked off council.

“As you and I know, there’s a lot of folks that ignore city bylaws all the time. It’s not part of the oath of office that you will abide by all city bylaws and there’s no councillor code of conduct that’s applicable to the matter,” he said. “There’s no real authority of council to take any action with respect to that other than that they could express their concern if they thought that was a problem.”

For a councillor to be removed from office, it would require an application to the B.C. Supreme Court by either the rest of council or 10 electors, said Chabot. Councillors are generally only removed from office for violating conflict of interest provisions, revealing secret council business, or repeatedly not attending meetings.

“What happens in very rare instances is a council may censure a member of council, which is really an official condemnation, a reprimand or an expression of their dislike for their conduct of a member,” said Chabot. “That really would only ever occur in the most egregious of circumstances. It’s really quite rare that it occurs.”

Council voted on five other vacation rental applications on Tuesday. One, on McCarty Crescent, was rejected due to opposition by neighbours, despite a passionate plea by the applicant they would be good operators.

“It’s not about people, it’s about zoning,” said councillor Linda Nixon. “We’re finding established neighbourhoods aren’t going to tolerate these whole-home vacation homes, even if they’re managed the best they can.”

Three applications to turn secondary suites into vacation rentals were deferred until a new zoning for partial-home rentals is adopted. Another application for a vacation home on Aspen Crescent was rejected before a public hearing; the neighbourhood has already complained about several other vacation rentals in the area.

“I think that if we were to approve it, we would get the neighbourhood up in arms again, they would be here in full force, they would tell everyone what’s going on,” said McKee. “I’m inclined to save everyone the pain and anguish and I will be voting no.”

Public hearings for vacation rental applications at 306 Downie Street, and 1103 Cottonwood Street are scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 28, at 3 p.m.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said only four properties advertised by Revelstoke Vacation Rentals were on the City of Revelstoke’s list of approved vacation rentals. In fact, five are.