By Steve Hubrecht

[email protected]

Invermere is conducting an online survey to get feedback about its proposed short-term rental (STR) bylaw.

A bylaw to regulate STRs in the District of Invermere has been years in making, but the process is nearly done and a bylaw could be in place as early as this winter. 

The number of STRs has grown dramatically in recent years across the country, but even more acutely so in destination communities such as Invermere. Other municipal entities in the Columbia Valley moved more swiftly than Invermere, with the Village of Radium Hot Springs having adopted an STR bylaw more than two years ago, and the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) adopting its STR bylaw earlier this summer (The Village of Canal Flats does not have an STR bylaw, but also does not have the same staggering numbers of STRs as does Invermere, Radium and parts of the RDEK). Invermere’s slow pace led to criticism from local residents who questioned why the district was lagging behind.

The proposed bylaw was recently put to the public during a series of three information and engagement meetings on Friday Oct. 5 which collectively attracted 54 people. At the same time, the district launched an online survey on its website to gauge public opinion. The deadline to fill out the survey is Friday, Oct. 27.

Invermere’s proposed STR bylaw entails a two-pronged approach to dealing with STRs — with business licensing as the primary means of regulation, and temporary use permits (TUPs) a secondary means. The district is considering setting a limit of one business licence per STR owner; having a maximum occupancy of 10 people in an STR (and a maximum of five bedrooms in STRs in R2 residentially zoned areas); setting a minimum 30 minute response time for STR operators to deal with complaints; having STR operators provide contact information to the district and close neighbours (within 25 metres); and having STR operators create parking plans.

There have been discussions of — but no firm decisions yet —  restrictions on operation of hot tubs, pools, and fire pits in STRs; limits on the number of STRs permitted within a given geographical area; and on noise monitoring of STRs.

At one time Invermere officials had talked about creating a bylaw with very steep fines for those who break it — up to $50,000, but the latest approach outlines a five-step series of escalating penalties for breaking the STR bylaw, beginning with a friendly letter and a $50 fine, then a cautionary letter and a $500 fine, a probationary letter and a $2,000 fine, termination of business licence and a $5,000 fine, and finally a referral to provincial court and a $5,000 fine.

“We’re looking at something a little more reasonable (than $50,000) but that is high enough thats it’s not just viewed as the cost of doing business,” Invermere Mayor Al Miller told the Pioneer, explaining the $5,000 figure. He noted that the cost for not following the bylaw could still escalate beyond $50,000 “but that would be getting into going to court.”

Miller was pleased with the turnout at the engagement sessions. “There were some good conversations, I was impressed. There are obviously some concerns and legitimately so. People got their points across.”

One of the most common concerns raised was the proliferation of STRs in single family residential neighbourhoods (often those with R1 residential zoning).

“Families living in these neighbourhoods are seeing more STRs in these areas, and that’s bringing in a lot of traffic,” said Miller. “People are worried about keeping a sense of community. How do we make sure the feel of Invermere doesn’t change (as a result of STRs)? I don’t blame them, Invermere does have a good community feel. How do we retain that?”

Has that feedback inspired council members to implement a limit on the number of STRs in a neighbourhood?

Not yet, although it will be a point of further discussion before the bylaw is adopted.

“These are things we have to contemplate,” said Miller. “We’ll take the feedback, crunch that together and try to make some good decisions.”

Miller said that everything can still be changed – both things that do not yet have any potential direction indicated (limits on number of STRs in a neighbourhood; hot tubs, pools and fire pits; noise monitoring) and things that do have potential direction indicated (fines and penalties; maximum occupancy limits; even the whole idea of a two-pronged approach).

“Nothing has been finalized yet,” he said.

Miller added he feels some STRs in Invermere are not only inevitable, but are in fact needed, saying, “we have a lack of hotel rooms. STRs are a way for visitors to travel to and enjoy our community. They spend in our town, keep our economy rolling and help create jobs.”

He expects the bylaw will be adopted some time in January or February.

To fill out the survey, visit: questionnaire.simplesurvey.com/f/l/STR or request a hard copy at the District of Invermere office.