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Ucluelet won’t ‘rush’ to opt in to vacation rental legislation

Both Ucluelet and its neighbour Tofino were exempt from Bill 35 principal residence requirement
Ucluelet’s municipal council has chosen not to opt-in to new provincial legislation around short term vacation rentals in the community. (Image from Airbnb)

Ucluelet won’t opt-in to new provincial legislation around short-term rentals this year.

During their Feb. 15 regular meeting, the town’s municipal council unanimously approved a recommendation from their staff to hold off for at least a year to see how the new regulations play out.

“Given the uncertainty and understanding that there may be some unintended consequences if the district were to just opt in without understanding what could be done within the zoning, we’re recommending that there isn’t a need to rush and there might be some unintended hardships that some properties would see,” the district’s Director of Community Planning Bruce Greig said in a report to council. “We don’t see a compelling advantage and there may be some real concern in the community.”

Both Ucluelet and its neighbour Tofino were exempt from the principal residence requirement because of their status as resort municipalities, but have the ability to opt in if they choose to.

Greig explained that a key aspect of whether or not to opt in is a requirement within the new legislation that short term rentals be located within the host’s principal residence.

He noted that Ucluelet had passed zoning and business licence changes to create its own principal residence requirements for local bed and breakfasts in September, 2022.

“It’s working for the bed and breakfasts, so we’re suggesting there isn’t a need to rush,” he said.

He suggested that while opting in would likely bring little to no change to bed and breakfast operators, it’s not clear how other rentals could be affected.

“We have other types of short term accommodation which would be affected by the provincial legislation. That’s part of the way our zoning is written,” he said. “We have things like: guest house, guest cabin, hostel, vacation rental, resort condo, numerous properties that have been purpose-built for tourist accommodation. At this point in time, as this is very new legislation and the regulations are sort of coming into effect, it’s not clear whether there’s going to be some greater flexibility for communities to define in a little finer grain within our zoning what this would apply to or not.”

He added council would have the option of opting in in 2025, which would allow for more thorough public engagement with the community on the topic.

“This is new and we’re learning about this as we go. There may be some advantages for communities who aren’t automatically affected by the regulations to opt in, particularly if it affects or changes how the province’s role in monitoring and enforcement rolls out,” he said.

“That’s something that will be a year from now when we sort of see all the details of that. We’re not sure if it’s going to make a difference, or if there would be a real advantage to be opting in to this legislation.”

He added several time-sensitive housing related decisions will be landing on council’s desk over the next few months.

“You’re going to probably get tired of us bringing forward housing information and questions for council this year, there’s a lot more to follow,” he said.

Mayor Marilyn McEwen said the new provincial legislation was a “hot topic” at the Local Government Leadership Academy annual forum in early February.

“There were some sessions about the new bills, but we also had some conversations with the one and only Tofino councillor that attended that conference with us and Tofino is looking at this same opportunity, whether they want to opt in or not,” McEwen said. “I definitely agree not to rush.”

She suggested the district could run the risk of losing its resort municipality status by opting in.

“We do have some unique properties that have a mix of people that live there and nightly rentals and under the new legislation, the nightly rentals would have to be eliminated to make room for full time residences, so that could actually jeopardize our resort municipality status,” she said. “The number of beds for tourists has to exceed the number of beds for residents in order to be a resort municipality. So if we eliminated a bunch of nightly rental beds we could lose that status, so that’s one unintended thing that might happen if we opt in.”

Coun. Ian Kennington asked about how several current housing project proposals combined with the current hesitation to approve new tourist accommodations would affect that status, regardless of whether the district opts into the new provincial regulations or not.

“Are we not heading down the path of eliminating our resort municipality status through this densification with no STRs allowed and no B and B’s allowed?” he asked.

McEwen responded, “That’s a really good question. I don’t have the answer to that.”

Greig suggested the wording in the new legislation suggests resort municipalities can opt in and also have the opportunity to opt out.

“I just want to acknowledge it is definitely an area of some controversy in a lot of communities, particularly larger communities where it’s not an option,” he said. “We’ll probably know more in the coming weeks or months and hopefully we can provide a little more clarity on these things.”

Coun. Shawn Anderson echoed McEwen’s sentiment about the issue being a key point of discussion at the LGLA forum.

“It does make you start to think when you’re part of a municipality and you’re making these decisions that you’re facing these blanket legislations from the province. It’s interesting because with what sometimes seems like a great idea that’s going to solve these problems, there’s interesting hiccups that happen along the way,” he said.

He cited Parksville and Sproat Lake as communities struggling with the new legislation’s consequences.

“It’s an interesting situation when there’s this blanket legislation. It might be kind of weird in some places where it doesn’t totally fit,” he said.

Coun. Mark Maftei asked how soon public engagement could begin in terms of whether or not to opt in next year.

Greig responded that the deadline for the province is March 31 this year and that would be the same deadline date in 2025.

“Within this next year, we’re hoping we understand the legislation and the regulations that are coming from the province, some of which we haven’t seen yet,” he said.

“We’re hoping that we’ll understand this a lot better than we have been able to figure out since they adopted this in December and started rolling out information which, as I said, is incomplete…We’re hoping the picture will be a lot clearer so that this time next year, we’d have a much clearer picture of if there’s an advantage, what are the pros and cons and can we avoid the unintended consequences to make a much more informed decision.”

Coun. Kennington supported the decision to wait.

“Our current zoning bylaws already cover off everything in this legislation that’s known, it’s the unknowns that we are worried about,” he said. “I like the flexibility of not having our hands tied. We could be more restrictive if we want to, or we can back off if we need to and if we start to lose control of our funding through resort municipality grants.”

He added Ucluelet has stricter rules than certain parts of the legislation and locking the district into provincial legislation would take away the ability to carve local laws that fit the community.

“We can cherry-pick parts of the legislation on our own, but once we opt in, we’re subject to those rules,” he said.

Coun. Jennifer Hoar agreed.

“The unintended consequences are what’s a little concerning here and we do have something in place that’s pretty good for the moment and we can see how it plays out,” she said, adding Ucluelet has “unusual zonings,” like guesthouses and it’s unclear how those would be affected. “There’s too many unknowns.”

Maftei suggested public engagement will be key and that residents should be assured that council is “not sweeping this under the rug never to be dealt with again.”

“I think it’s important that people are aware that if we’re trying to buy time. It’s for a good reason so that we can approach it in a much more logical, rational way,” he said.

“I would really hope and expect and push, if need be, to make sure that this is something that we do get public input on and, come March of next year, we’re in a position to make a much more informed decision.”

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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