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Nakusp council debates short-term rentals

STRs are allowed as long as the owner or tenant resides on the property long-term
Nakusp Village Hall, Nakusp City Hall, Nakusp Council, Nakusp Village Council. (File photo)

Rachael Lesosky

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Council, staff, and the public were all stirred by the topic of short-term rentals (STR) in the commercial (C1) and lakeshore (LD-1) zones of the Village.

“It’s no secret that I’m done with this topic,” said CAO Wayne Robinson.

In most areas of Nakusp, STRs are allowed as long as the owner or tenant resides on the property long-term. For C1 and LD-1 however, a special provision was created to allow a property without a long-term resident to operate as an STR for 90 days. Property owners must indicate which 90 days the unit will be available when they apply for a business license. Other than the 90 days, the unit should be occupied long-term.

Staff has received four complaints from property owners, expressing concern with the application process. Having to specify which 90 days the STR will operate is ‘impossible’ or ‘unfair.’

“I think we did a pretty good job to engage with the public [when developing the bylaw],” said CAO Robinson. “That’s one thing that’s so defeating from a staff perspective, is that we did a lot of public engagement and these folks are waiting until now to come and complain about it.”

Robinson explained that the objections of a very few are taking up a disproportionate amount of his time.

“I want to run a municipality and I want to run it well, but I’m stuck having to defend a position,” he said.

Darlene Adair, who attended the meeting online, spoke up to share her frustrations.

“You’ve restricted us to 90 days,” she said. “That’s 25% of the year that I can earn an income… you’re preventing people from earning income, yet you raised taxes 10%… if you really want long-term housing, it should be the people in the residential areas [who are restricted in the number of STR days].”

Adair’s unit is more like a hotel room, she said, too small to serve as a long-term rental.

Councillor Dolly Edwards offered up a solution. In the commercial zone, the provision of ‘long-term resident’ could be replaced by ‘long-term commercial use.’

With that wording, an STR would be allowed as long as the owner is using the space for long-term commercial use (like in residential zones: as long as the owner or tenant lives there long-term). There would be no 90-day limit.

“A bylaw amendment is labour-intensive,” CAO Robinson wrote in his staff report. “Council needs to be mindful of staff capacity and if it is worth placing resources into a zoning bylaw amendment that affects a very small number of properties in the community.”

Non-resident water use

Council’s discussion of non-resident water use opened up the can of worms that is water rates, but not much will change unless the Province implements water meters across BC.

In January, staff received an email from an individual living in Arrow Park. They said that taps had frozen during the cold snap, and they were now unable to access potable water from the Village’s water system.

“It came to our knowledge that they were actually going to different businesses and getting drinking water from their hoses, their taps,” said CAO Robinson.

Council agreed this is fine in cases of emergency, but the Village has no way of tracking how much water is being drawn by individuals outside of the water service area in non-emergencies.

It’s a larger conversation, said CAO Robinson, because people are sensitive about this topic and its fairness, especially surrounding large landowners and multi-person households paying the same fee as a single person on a small lot. Unauthorized water drawing worsens fair payment matters.

“If it is that urgent of a problem – and I think with climate change it’s going to get worse – people need to be proactive,” said Councillor Aidan McLaren-Caux. “I don’t think drawing on our system is a sustainable long-term solution.”

McLaren-Caux said that creating a designated water filling station wouldn’t help those communities build resiliency for themselves.

“I think it’s something that we monitor, or we seek a conversation with the RDCK,” said Councillor Mason Hough.

CAO Robinson recommended that council keep an eye on provincial movements regarding water meters, and to go from there.

Business license bylaw

Council discussed amending the business license bylaw, in particular for mobile vendors on private property, and mushroom buyers.

Council agreed that private property owners hosting mobile vendors should be responsible for making sure the vendors comply by getting a business license.

“We have a mobile vendor in town right now, and they refuse to get a business license,” said CAO Robinson.

If the amendment passes, the Village would be able to ticket the property owner, which may give greater incentive for property owners and vendors alike to comply with the bylaw.

The current bylaw places responsibility on the vendors to obtain a license.

Staff also noted that pop-up mushroom buyers were not getting business licenses either. Council agreed with the staff recommendation to make a new section for mushroom buyers. It would charge them a lower license fee, between $100 and $200 instead of $500, since mushroom buyers do not sell items, they only purchase.

Amendments will come before council for three readings and adoption during upcoming meetings.

Permissive tax exemptions

If seeking a permissive tax exemption, council would like churches and organizations to justify why they need it, and demonstrate their benefit to the community.

15 community groups are at the end of their exemption terms this year, and staff thought it would be a good time to reconsider the parameters of the policy.

If the policy stays the same, exemptions will amount to about $35,000 in 2024, which taxpayers will pay on behalf of the exempt organizations.

“I’d like to consider [exemptions] on a case-to-case basis, yearly, with financials submitted, and based on the qualifications and what they bring to the Village,” said Councillor Tina Knooihuizen.

Some organizations are ‘double dipping’ and also leasing Village lands/buildings for a nominal fee of $1.

“They 100%, very, very much, need to demonstrate a need [for exemption],” said Councillor McLaren-Caux. “Because if they’re making money through Village facilities at no cost, then what we’re doing is getting the rest of taxpayers to subsidize their activities.”

Changes to the policy may also include a maximum annual limit of the municipal tax levy, and a limit on how many exemptions are granted.

Councillor Hough asked what would happen if they stopped all tax exemptions. Director of Finance Mark Tennant said the exempted would pay their taxes, and taxpayers as a whole would pay about 2% less.