By Steve Hubrecht

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Invermere council continued its long march toward short-term rental (STR) regulation last week, giving final reading to an updated business licensing bylaw meant to help regulate STRs.

Council members gave the updated bylaw third reading during their Tuesday, Jan. 23 meeting. It is very likely to be officially adopted in February. The bylaw attracted a gallery audience of 15 to 20 people, quite large by the standards of Invermere council meetings, leaving only a few empty seats in chambers. A few of those in attendance were supportive of even tighter restrictions on STRs in Invermere, but the overwhelming majority were either STR owners and operators, or were supportive of STR owners and operators. They raised concerns about the regulations and many voiced opinions that the restrictions were too tight.

Invermere council and staff have been working on regulations for nearly two and a half years, and  have outlined a two-pronged approach — using both a business licensing bylaw and temporary use permits (TUPs) — since June 2022. Having spent so much time on the issue already, and having sought public feedback at multiple points during the process, Invermere council members were inclined to stay on their chosen course, despite the concerns raised by the STR owners and operators. 

Councillor Kayja Becker and councillor Gerry Taft each spoke about just how divided opinions on STRs seems to be in the community.

“I think it’s fair to say that feedback has been polarized in that there are distinct camps. Both of them feel very strongly, and there’s not a lot of middle ground between them,” said Taft. “Some people don’t want STRs here at all, others want a free-for-all.” Taft later added that there also seems to be a generational split, with older Invermere residents typically not wanting any STRs in the community while “the younger generation seems more open to it, possibly because they feel they need the extra income (from renting their home as an STR) to afford their properties.”

Invermere chief administrative officer Andrew Young agreed the feedback had brought out many different, and sometimes conflicting, responses, but did note that in fall 2021 and more recently in fall 2023 “respondents were clear that STRs should be regulated.” 

Becker summed up that “we do not have clear consensus. But we (council) are, I believe, striking a balance. We’re not going to make everyone happy . . . there’s no way to please everybody. I don’t think any of us on council even agree 100 per cent with every point in the bylaw. But on the whole, it’s reasonable and it’s been done in a way that’s defensible.”

STR owners and operators in the gallery asked repeatedly about the two-pronged approach, questioning why both business licence and TUPs were necessary. Young, as well as Invermere Mayor Al Miller and other council members explained the rationale several times: all STRs in Invermere, regardless of what kind of zoning they have, need to have business licences.

As Young put it: “they are businesses, they need business licences.”

The TUPs are needed in addition to business licences for STRs that are in parts of the community where current zoning does not allow STRs. Invermere has many different kinds of zoning across the district. Some zones (including the one for the Lake Windermere Resort condos, and a few other high density developments, for instance) allow for STRs to be operated. Other zones (including most single family residential areas and most low density areas, for instance) do not allow STRs.

That means that STRs in single family residential areas should not be operating in these neighbourhoods according to Invermere bylaws.

“They are illegal,” said Young, at least twice during the meeting.

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If an STR owner with an STR in an Invermere neighbourhood not zoned for STRs applies for and receives a TUP, their STR will be ‘legal’ for the duration of the TUP term, which is three years.

The zoning (and consequently the need for TUPs) can be confusing: In general most single family residential and low density neighbourhoods are not zoned for STRs (so STR operators there will need business licences and TUPs). And in general many high density areas are zoned to allow for STRs (so STR owners there will need only business licences). But there are exceptions to this general rule of thumb. The Bayshore Condos, for example, are a high density development, but have zoning that does not allow for STRs (so owners there will need business licences and TUPs).

Some feel regulations too restrictive

STR owners in the gallery made their feelings known, and in many cases outlined the economic benefits their businesses create for Invermere. Valley resident Ryan Neal owns a six bedroom house that he operates as a STR. Neal said he has concerns about the proposed limits of two people per bedroom and four bedrooms per STR, as well as the limit of one STR per owner in Invermere, and the restrictions on outdoor pools.

The two-person-per-bedroom and eight-people-per-STR limits “would mean a family with three kids could not stay with a family with two kids and I think that’s a bit ridiculous,” said Neal.

He said there are 13 STRs in Invermere with five or more bedrooms (above the four-bedroom limit proposed by the district), which he said account for 65 per cent of STR revenue in Invermere, based on Airdna data. Neal suggested the guests staying in those 13 STRs likely account for a similar percentage of tourist spending here.

“These are luxury homes. They are set up as luxury homes. They come at a luxury price point,” said Neal.

In a chart presented to council members, he outlined that, annually, each of these 13 luxury STRs results in $938,000 of revenue created ($200,000 in revenue for the STR owner; $500,000 in direct spending on food, activities and amenities by guests; and $238,000 in indirect and induced spending). This equates to nearly $12.2 million in revenue collectively created by the 13 luxury STRs, he said.

“They’re not just money makers for the owners, they’re money makers across the community,” said Neal. “Don’t take the numbers lightly. It’s a lot of money.”

“Our business is always under attack and it sucks,” said Aisling Baile founder Jerod McMurray. Aisling Baile is an STR and property management company based in the Columbia Valley. “Last month we paid out more than $100,000 in wages (for services such as cleaning) . . . that’s (to) people who live here in the valley.”

McMurray said that when it comes to STR regulations “we’ll do anything that’s reasonable.” He said a “TUP caveat” for outdoor pools makes sense, but that he was confused by the need for TUPs and business licences.

Local resident Liam Haynes added that numerous businesses in Invermere wouldn’t be able to survive without the spending of STR guests.

Invermere STR owner Jim Campbell said if the idea of STR regulation is to “free up” long-term rentals, it won’t work. “I don’t believe that’s going to happen. If you’ve got luxury homes, the owners will just keep the homes and use them when they visit the valley. A lot of them will sit empty the rest of the time,” said Campbell.

“I would never consider doing long-term rentals,” said Neal, adding his monthly expenses are about $6,000. “The only way to cover that is with an STR.”

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Becker said she is aware the STR regulations may not necessarily result in a lot of current STRs switching to long-term rentals, but added that’s not the entire point of the bylaw — it’s also about regulating an industry that local residents clearly want regulated.

The mayor told Neal he is able to apply for a special, larger-than-normal operation in his TUP application, with approval of it subject to council discretion.

Some feel regulations not restrictive enough

Although in the minority at the meeting, some members of the gallery felt the proposed STR regulations were not strict enough.

Local artist and business owner Pat Bavin was one of those, and stood to address council.

“I’m hearing a lot about money and profit, but I’m looking at things in a different way,” said Bavin. “There’s a different kind of ‘profit’ to think about, and that is lifestyle, sense of community, and way of living. That needs to come into the balance.”

Bavin said he’s supportive of STRs in general, but feels they badly need regulation in Invermere. He questioned whether or not the district would actually be able to enforce its STR regulations, noting the district only has one bylaw officer who is already quite busy.

“It could be a regulatory enforcement nightmare .  . . things could be aggressive,” said Bavin. “It should be handled by two or three dedicated enforcement officers.”

Bavin outlined his support for requiring that owners of STRs live on site, with the STR property being their principal residence. (This rule is part of incoming provincial STR regulations for communities with populations of 10,000 or more.) He also suggested, in a letter to council, a limit of six guests of all ages and a maximum of three bedrooms per STR (instead of the proposed eight guests and four bedrooms).

Invermere resident Mike Fairhart and his wife Linda had earlier sent a letter to council, writing that “we are extremely disappointed with the proposed bylaw’s approaches to regulating and licensing STRs in our community.”

The Fairharts wrote that STRs should not be allowed in single family residential neighbourhoods (those zoned R1 or R2) at all. “This was voiced loudly by local citizens during community consultation sessions and feedback to the district. Simply requiring operators to acquire a licence will do little to address associated problems such as noise, occupancy level, parking, traffic and safety concerns,” they wrote. “The proposed licensing and regulations serve the financial and commercial interests of a small group of second homeowners and absentee property owners who have no connection to the Invermere community and could lead to a continued increase in the number operating in residential areas. The bylaw does little to limit and reduce the number of STRs currently in our resident neighbourhoods.”

The couple agreed with Bavin that the proposed cap of eight guests per STR is too generous. “Eight is still too many,” they wrote. They suggested instead that occupancy level of STRs should mirror the average number of occupants per household in the surrounding residential neighbourhood.

The Fairharts feel, like Bavin, that if STRs are allowed in residential neighbourhoods, they should be owner occupied (i.e. the STR owner lives on the property, as their principal residence). They suggested that no Invermere STR licences be issued to individuals who reside outside of Invermere; that the district increase fines for the first and second instances of breaking STR regulations; and that council consider limits on issuing STR licences with an eye to reducing STR numbers over time.

“Historically, enforcement of existing bylaws and regulations concerning STRs and related noise has been extremely limited. Enforcement needs to be 24/7 including weekends, evenings and nights, especially during the busy summer and holiday periods. After hours enforcement should not be left solely to the RCMP. They have limited resources and more important issues to deal with,” wrote the Fairharts. “The cost of enforcement should be fully covered by the business licensing and temporary use permit fees along with the costs to administer the program. Local taxpayers should not foot the bill for those profiting from operating STRs.”

They recommended setting up a citizen’s advisory committee to monitor and report on the impact of Invermere’s STR regulations.

Attention turns to TUPs

In conclusion, Young reiterated Becker and Taft’s comments that there were strong opinions on both sides of the issue. “Council has had to grapple with finding a balance between allowing for STRs and making sure STRs are respectful of the community and its character,” he said. “I think the work, when complete, will speak for itself and the community will be satisfied in due course.”

The bylaw will likely be adopted at one of Invermere council’s February meetings. Council and staff will then proceed with figuring out the details of TUPs. This will involve updating the Official Community Plan (OCP) and zoning bylaws. They will also work on amending the municipal ticketing information bylaw to allow fines for breaking STR rules. 

The district aims to have all these changes adopted by April, with the new regulations taking effect on May 1.