In the face of opposition from Tourism Squamish, the Chamber of Commerce and Squamish's former mayor, the District's contentious regulations on Airbnb-type rentals have taken another step forward and are expected to go to public hearing in the fall.
In a 6-1 vote, council passed second reading of the short-term rental bylaw that is intended to regulate vacation rentals in town.
Bylaws must pass three readings and adoption before coming into effect.
Coun. Chris Pettingill was the sole dissenting vote.
Pettingill said the current bylaw is too heavy handed. He said that having big hotel chains set up shop in town is not the solution, as they employ many low-wage workers, which could create yet another need for housing.
With short-term rentals, he said, at least locals are the ones making a profit.
"I have been hesitant to weigh in on council agendas and I kept hoping this initiative would take a different direction, but second reading is the final version to be presented to the public so I can no longer bite my tongue," wrote Patricia Heintzman, who served as mayor last term.
"There are two fundamental flaws with the bylaw. One: it will not have any significant increase in affordable housing units in our community. Two: it creates a massively bloated, cumbersome and bureaucratic quagmire the goals of which are unachievable, and potentially opens the District up to massive liability."
At question is a proposed bylaw that would allow residents to host a short term rental, but only if it is located in the property where they live and spend most of their time. Hosts must be living in that property at least five months out of a year.
However, under this proposal, there will be a ban on hosting short term rentals in accessory units like coach houses and secondary suites — even if the host uses them as a principal residence.
Operators must comply with life safety requirements, obtain a licence and pay a fee.
There will also be a $500 penalty for those who flout the rules.
"The key to note is that the $500 penalty is per offence. Each new day that an operation is not in compliance with the bylaw is considered to be a new offence, so the penalties can add up quick," said municipal planner Aja Philp.
A staff report says that the dollar value was based on an examination of other municipalities that found this amount to be the most common rate.
Regardless of Heintzman's words, council decided that the bylaw would move forward.
Mayor Karen Elliott said that while people are complaining about the bylaw tightening restrictions, short-term rentals are actually not allowed in town at the moment.
"I think one thing that people sometimes forget is, currently, Airbnbs, short-term rentals, aren't allowed in any home in the district, and this bylaw allows them to be in any home in the district, as long as it's your primary residence," said Elliott.
"It creates more opportunity — not less — but maybe not the opportunity that some folks are looking for."
However, while short-term rentals may not be allowed in town currently, that hasn't stopped people from hosting them.
District staff say that there are currently about 430 short-term rentals throughout the community.
Others who supported the regulation said that it was imperative that Squamish do what it can to preserve long-term rentals for locals. It's been a pressing issue in a town with a zero vacancy rate and a housing affordability crisis.
"We [are] at a bit of a crossroads about deciding whether we're a resort town and heading towards this is a place solely for people that can afford it can come and play — and a place where people can have successful lives and live and work and build their family and our community," said Coun. Armand Hurford.
Two major organizations in town, however, took a different view.
"Tourism Squamish continues to be extremely concerned about the proposed [short term rental] bylaw with all of the comments from our previous letters still standing," wrote Lesley Weeks of Tourism Squamish. "We feel the approach is too restrictive and have presented data that illustrates the negative impact these restrictions could have on the tourism industry in Squamish."
She said it was the wrong time to be implementing the measures due to the economic hardship posed by COVID-19.
The executive director of the Squamish Chamber of Commerce shared similar sentiments.
"We do not think now is the correct time to be making these decisions," wrote Louise Walker. "There are many uncertainties and unknowns around the impact of COVID-19. The recommendations are based on data that will likely change and it is challenging for the community to engage. Now is not the time to be reducing our tourism offering and creating barriers for economic growth."
A public hearing for this proposed bylaw has been scheduled for Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. It will be held and held and streamed from the Stawamus room at Brennan Park Recreation Centre.