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Commercial Accommodation Policies - Meeting 1 and 2

Commercial Accommodation Policies Focus Group - North Pender Island OCP

Commercial Accommodation Policies: OCP Review Focus Group Report

June 5, 2005
To: Local Trust Committee
North Pender Island
From: Don Munroe


I was asked by the North Pender Island Local Trust Committee to chair and facilitate two meetings on the topic of ďCommercial Accommodation PoliciesĒ. The two meetings, which were on April 9 and May 16, 2005, were for the identical purpose of receiving community input, to be conveyed to the LTC, on the above topic. The meetings were one part of a process by which the LTC will consider what revisions, additions or deletions ought to be made to the Official Community Plan, if any.

The meeting on April 9, 2005, was attended by 53 persons; the meeting on May 16, 2005, by 48 persons. There was considerable overlap in the persons attending the two meetings. Not everyone spoke, but many did. As well, I received 50 written submissions (some from persons who also spoke at one or both meetings;
some from persons who did not attend or did not speak at the meetings). All written submissions received by me are appended to this report for your reading. Little purpose would be served by my simply repeating the content of the written submissions (which in one way or another, capture most of the points made orally
at the meetings). Rather, in this report, I will attempt in narrative fashion to summarize what I believe to be the major points arising both at the meetings and in the written submissions.

As I understand it, the subject of ďCommercial Accommodation PoliciesĒ was intended to include a discussion of all manner of visitor and tourist accommodation on North Pender Island. However, with rare exception, the oral
and written submissions were focused on the issue of short term vacation rentals (STVR).

Based on the meetings and the written submissions, I cannot say that there is a clear community consensus on the STVR issue. On the one hand, there is a substantial body of opinion that STVRís should be a permissible use in all zones, essentially without restriction. At the same time, there is a countervailing body of opinion, based on personal experience or on a sense of community values, that STVRís are unacceptable; or unacceptable in the more concentrated residential areas of the Island; or should only be permitted for resident owners (or owners
with a resident supervisor); or should require commercial zoning; or should be capped or limited as to numbers; or should be regulated as to numbers of guests or minimum duration of stay. There is another point of view which might be summarized as ďregulation if necessary but not necessarily regulationĒ. One variant on this point of view is that self-regulation should be given full opportunity to be effective before any regulation is considered; another variant envisages a system of registration (periodic licensing) and monitoring - with the potential for revocation of registration in the event of serious complaints.

Many of the advocates of STVRís say that the STVR type of tourist accommodation is common and accepted world-wide; that it is the accommodation-of-choice for many tourists, particularly those traveling as families (who may not be able to afford commercial hotels/inns or who may not be welcome with their children or pets at a B&B). Tourism, they say, provides substantial economic benefits to the community. Tourists shop at the local stores and public markets; they purchase local art and crafts; they spend money on recreational pursuits; they dine at local restaurants; etc. In turn, these shops, restaurants, local artisans, etc., spend the monies thus earned at local suppliers and by hiring Island residents who might otherwise find employment opportunities to
be sparse. STVRís, say the advocates, are as legitimate a form of tourist accommodation as any other. Indeed, as I have indicated, an argument is made that STVRís fill a need not satisfied by other forms of tourist accommodation. An argument is also made that the mix on the Island of different types of tourist accommodation (including STVRís) is not out of balance.

Some STVR owners who spoke at the meetings describe themselves as part-time Island residents whose goal is to become full-time Island residents, and whose STVR income is necessary to defray mortgage and other costs pending their longer term goal of full-time residency being realized. They say they are sensitive to neighbourhood concerns about noise; that they screen tenants carefully; and that they have not received complaints from surrounding property owners. They say as well that they educate their clients about water issues, fire issues, recycling, etc. Some of them described the Island activities in which they participate, and for
which they volunteer. These individuals, and other STVR owners who spoke at the meetings, are offended by any suggestion that they are not good Island citizens. Some point out, too, that homes and properties used for STVR purposes are typically very well maintained (more so than long-term rental properties), thus enhancing the neighbourhood environment.

I can perhaps summarize to this point by saying that those of the STVR advocates who spoke at the meetings or filed written submissions, view themselves as engaging in a legitimate activity to the general benefit of the community, and that a significant onus of persuasion should rest on those seeking to prohibit, restrict, limit or regulate the activity.

Those persons opposed to STVRís, or wishing to see them restricted, limited or regulated, offer a variety of reasons for the view they take of the matter. For some, it is a question of community values. They ask: Are we moving in the direction of community decision-making being dominated by economic considerations? How many tourists do we really want on the Island? How many should we be expected to accommodate? Will the Islandís sense of community (neighbourliness, volunteerism, etc.) be jeopardized by unrestricted STVRís? For some of the same people asking such questions, and for others, the problem is also very close to home. As examples, some residents on Buck Lake spoke of their lives being made miserable during the main tourism season by the STVR activity at other homes on the lake: the late-night parties; instances of traffic congestion and noise; and mis-use of the lake (a major water supply). In the minds of some of the Buck Lake residents, much of this is associated with ďunhostedĒ STVRís: which is to say, non-resident STVR owners who cannot or will not exercise effective control over the activities of their clients. Examples were recounted of what I gather to be the relatively recent occurrence of off- Islanders purchasing multiple Island dwellings for use as STVRís, without
providing effective local supervision. Some who spoke at the meetings or filed written submissions, while not yet experiencing any unpleasant fallout from STVRís, expressed a fear for the future if the perceived growth in the number of STVRís continues unchecked. For some of the individuals raising these concerns, the answer lies in a prohibition against STVRís in the more concentrated residential zones. Some suggested a blanket prohibition in residential zones; one suggestion was a minimum lot size of 1.5 acres.

A few of the written submissions speak of the desirability of a cap on the number of STVRís, including one suggestion that the cap be lower than the present number of STVRís, but with existing STVR owners being ďgrandparentedĒ. A couple of people suggested a minimum-stay requirement of seven nights, on the theory that weekly renters will likely be more moderate in their behaviour than, say, weekend renters.

The advocates of essentially unrestricted STVRís counter some of the above summarized concerns by saying that there is no objective body of evidence showing disproportionate noise or other neighbourhood disturbance by STVR clients -- i.e., as opposed to the families and friends of full-time or part-time Island residents. In that connection, they point anecdotally to the occasional instance where an STVR client has been wrongly identified as the source of a neighbourhood disturbance. Some of these same individuals suggest that at least a partial answer to problems associated with STVRís lies in more effective enforcement of existing noise by-laws.

That takes me to what might be characterized as the intermediate points of view. Various speakers identified what they believed to be a need for objective monitoring and data-gathering respecting STVRís. A few speakers said that STVR owners must be educated about community expectations of client behaviour. Some suggested that desired outcomes can by achieved through self-regulation; at the least, that self-regulation within a reasonable framework of expectations ought to be given an opportunity to work prior to a problem being
identified for regulation. One of the speakers (whose views are shared by some others), who also filed a comprehensive written submission, said that that if there is a felt need for some form of regulation, a licensing system would be a supportable idea. Under such a system, STVRís would by required to register and pay an annual fee, with the registration being revocable in the event of serious disturbances.

Related to much of what is said above is the debate about whether STVRís should be limited to areas zoned commercial; or, put another way, whether commercial zoning should be a pre-condition to the operation of an STVR. Some owners of tourist accommodations that are presently zoned commercial argue that an unfairness lies in the fact that they pay commercial property taxes while STVR owners pay only residential property taxes. One response given to that argument is to the effect that the typical STVR is rented out for only a portion of the year, in some instances serving as the ownersí residence for the rest of the year (often the greater proportion of the year). In short, STVRís do not fit into a ďcookie cutterĒ analysis, as is presumed (so it is said) by those who argue that STVRís should be seen as a ďcommercialĒ activity for zoning and land tax purposes. Another response given by advocates of STVRís is that the typical STVR owner is no more engaged in a ďcommercialĒ activity than other property owners in residential areas engaged in all manner of home businesses: including arts and crafts studios; therapy clinics; music or dance lessons; hair cutting; etc.

Thankfully, my mandate from the LTC does not include the making of recommendations for the resolution of the STVR issue, but rather is limited to providing a summary of community input. However, there was a suggestion made during the meetings I chaired, coming from a couple of quarters (including an STVR owner), which I commend to the LTC for its consideration. An argument made by the advocates of essentially unrestricted STVRís is that any problems associated with STVRís are being experienced by only a relatively few people, and, in that circumstance, one must avoid responses which are over-broad or over-blunt.

While the LTC may consider that argument to have some force, it does not mean that serious complaints from Islanders about nearby STVRís should simply be brushed aside. Based on the meetings and written submissions, most (not all) of the complaints about STVRís making life miserable originate in the Buck Lake area. The suggestion, quite simply, is that as an interim measure, and while the issue is being generally addressed, the LTC appoint a neutral person to engage in a fact-finding process by which any problems in the Buck Lake area, and the sources of the problems, are clearly identified; and then, by a process of moral suasion including the prospect of regulation or prohibition, the STVR owners, if any, whose properties are the source of problems, may be prevailed upon to effectively deal with the situation.

As I said near the outset, nearly all the discussion at the two meetings I chaired, and virtually all the written submissions, dealt with the STVR issue. There were, however, a few comments about campgrounds. One speaker thought that privately-owned campgrounds ought to be considered a permissible use on larger parcels. Another speaker, while neither agreeing nor disagreeing with that suggestion, commented that agri-tourism must be secondary to the agricultural purpose of the property; and that campgrounds should be required to have on-site management and a sewage dump station.



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