By Steve Hubrecht 

[email protected] 

A public hearing on the District of Invermere’s proposed short-term rental (STR) regulations drew modest attendance last week.

Although the issue has generated plenty of attention in recent years, and brought large crowds to council meetings, the public hearing on Thursday, April 4 had a public gallery of a dozen people. This contrasted starkly with the 150 to 160 people in attendance for another public hearing (on a proposed affordable housing development-Columbia Valley Metis Association office) held in the same location — the Columbia Valley Centre — on the same night. The difference was made all the more explicit because the public hearings were held one after the other. When the affordable housing public hearing ended, two hours past schedule, almost the entire standing room-only audience filed out, leaving 12 members of the public sitting scattered in a sea of empty chairs for the STR public hearing.

Longtime Invermere resident Pat Bavin was the only member of the public to speak at the STR hearing. Bavin has consistently raised concerns about the district’s STR regulations through the fall and winter. In the past he had questioned the impact of STRs on the quality of life for full-time residents here, and wondered why Invermere isn’t restricting STRs to principal residences (i.e no second homes rented out as STRs) or requiring STR owners or operators to live onsite (or a full-time tenant), as is the case with incoming provincial STR regulations.

The new provincial regulations will apply to all B.C. non-resort municipality communities with populations above 10,000. Invermere is doubly exempt from these rules: Invermere-Panorama Mountain Resort is one of B.C.’s designated resort municipalities, and Invermere has a population of just under 4,000. But at least one designated resort municipality in the province — Tofino — has voted to ‘opt in’ to the provincial regulations.

Bavin outlined new, but related concerns at the public hearing, saying that in his view one of the benefits of requiring STR owners (or full-time tenants) on site is that if there are issues with the STR — such as noise or parking problems — the STR owners (or full-time tenants), by default, end up sorting out these issues. When owners are absent, it is neighbours who end up spending the most time dealing with the problems, even if it is not their responsibility, opined Bavin. He pressed Invermere council for details on how a complaints process for STRs will work, and how enforcement of the regulations will work.

He noted many municipalities in B.C. have a burgeoning number of STRs, as Invermere does, and that many of these communities have a large number STRs operated by second homeowners, or otherwise “out of area” homeowners, as Invermere does. But, Bavin continued: in most of these communities the new provincial regulations requiring owners (or full-time tenants) on site will “minimize the nightmare of enforcement plus overall cost of administration from being loaded on the taxpayer, since budgets for enforcement are usually low priority.” Invermere, he pointed out, will be different.

Invermere chief administrative officer Andrew Young replied to Bavin that complaint and enforcement procedures have actually been outlined earlier and were in fact contained in the bylaw. He noted that, in essence, it boils down to reporting problems to District of Invermere staff, who will respond as appropriate. Young explained that once the district has a register of STRs in Invermere that have acquired the temporary use permits (TUP) and business licences needed to operate (as well as a list of applicants trying to get those documents) they can check the complaints to see if the STR operator is — or is at least trying to — run their business legally.

If not “they’ll be treated differently than an individual who has not made an honest effort to legalize their STR,” assured Young.

“We’re trying to take it from the Wild West to something that’s managed,” added Invermere Mayor Al Miller.

A total of three letters from the public were submitted prior to the public hearing, one from Bavin, one from Linda Anderson and one from ‘E. and L.’ Peter. All three letters were opposed to STRs in Invermere.

“Full-time residents should be council’s number one priority. Lower income workers in town need accommodation in town as many can’t afford the luxury of a vehicle. Invermere will not survive if you approve the STR policy which limits housing for town workers,” wrote Anderson.

E. and L. Peter wrote a list of what they see as the positives and negatives of STRs in Invermere, giving far more negatives than positives and concluding with “why illogically harm residential areas where locals live in Invermere with these STRs of absentee owners? Speak up or suffer the consequences, Invermere.”