April 17, 2023
- Council rejects property variance request, gives no reason
- MARS Rhodo Show & Sale – Saturday, April 22
- Short-term rental policy dithering
- Scene around Town – Spring blues
Council rejects request for property variance, no reason given
The sincere efforts of late by Town Administration and Council to improve transparency with the public have been as refreshing as the first scent of spring lilacs.
Thus we were startled by Council’s rather callous rejection of an Eaglecrest resident’s recent application for a Development Variance Permit — an application that Town Planner Rebecca Augustyn had recommended be approved, with the concurrence of Planning Director Luke Sales and CAO Lou Varela.
Steve Boechler and Karen Sterner applied to the Town to be exempted from setback restrictions at the corner of their lot so they could erect a small art studio, an exemption that does require Council approval. The application came before Council at its regular meeting on March 22, 2023.
Normally, to get the discussion rolling, Council makes and seconds a motion to accept the staff recommendation. The mover and seconder aren’t necessarily in favour of the motion, it’s just common courtesy to get it on the table so it can be discussed, and then formally voted on.
Councillor Scott Harrison made the motion. However, not one of the other four Councillors would second it. So the motion just died — in essence, the Permit application, as recommended by staff, was simply ignored by Council, without any reason provided.
No explanation whatsoever was given to the applicants, or to the staff, or to the public. Meeting chair Mayor Teunis Westbroek simply blew it off and moved on to the next agenda item.
At the end of the meeting there was a partial act of contrition and recovery. The Mayor revisited the agenda item stating: “I just want to make sure that there was nobody here to speak about the [Eaglecrest] development, because I was wrong. I didn’t recognize anyone from that address.”
Why had Mayor Westbroek not asked the obvious question when the item came up on the Agenda: Is either of the co-applicants or their representative in attendance? More to the point, why did that even matter? There was a thorough 14-page Staff report with the Agenda, sufficient to support a Council discussion of the proposed variance.
But instead, Mayor Westbroek said, “I want to make sure we have heard the Applicant,” and asked Council “to rescind the earlier decision.” Then, looking at the Staff, the Mayor said, “Councillor [sic] can that happen?” He was reminded that there had been no decision, since there had been no motion on the floor to be voted on.
Then the meeting discourse got even stranger.
Mr. Boechler (the applicant) was invited to come on down to the podium and address the Permit application as an impromptu Delegation. He obliged. It must have been very tempting to ask two questions of Council. First, have each of you read the Staff report? Second, what exactly isn’t clear about our request?
Council listened to his address, asked some questions and, then and only then, did we hear from Councillor Jean Young that, “We have received a letter from the adjacent neighbour and they’re strongly against it.”
After completing its statutory notifications, Town Staff had reported receiving “two letters in support of the application and two letters in opposition of the application.” But Staff had still recommended approval of the variance.
Council again refused to put the decision to a vote.
Perhaps the applicants will just have to create their studio in an RV and park it in the very space they had in mind for their small building. That, apparently, would not need a variance permit. — GS
MARS annual Rhodo Show & Plant Sale Saturday, April 22, 2023
At the MARS Annual Rhododendron Show and Plant Sale, rhododendron enthusiasts exhibit their favourite flowers and foliage, and local vendors offer a wonderful range of garden goodies, accessories, and new and unusual plants.
Come for the blooms, coffee, snacks, and door prizes; shop for rhododendrons and perennials; and seize the opportunity to talk to rhododendron experts. Don’t miss it!
Would you like to show off your beautiful rhodos? Everyone is welcome to display their flowers, and there’s no entry fee! Click here for more information
Location: Qualicum Beach Curling Club, 644 Memorial Avenue, Qualicum Beach, BC (next to the Farmers’ Market)
Date: Saturday, April 22, 2023
Time: 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM
Open to the public – no admission charge!
Short-term rentals — three years after policy requested, Council still dithering
In a previous article we noted that the Town had been chided, politely but pointedly, for its tardiness in deciding if, when and where short-term visitor rental accommodation would be regulated inside the Town.
In his presentation to Town Council on March 1, 2023 Blain Sepos, Executive Director, Parksville / Qualicum Beach Tourism Association, noted a need for further discussion with Town Council “about short-term vacation rentals in our region and the growth they’ve had here, as well as the impact we perceive they have on affordable housing in our region.”
We noted that nothing appears to have been done by the Town in the three years since Sepos presented to the previous Council in August 2019 where, according to meeting Minutes “Regarding short term rentals, Mr. Sepos recommended the Town consider regulation and enforcement instead of banning them altogether.”
Not dealing with the issue has prolonged uncertainty for hoteliers and bed-and-breakfast operators, as well as any home owners who might want to rent a basement suite over the summer to short-term vacationers through Airbnb to help with the mortgage.
And, as demonstrated at the March 22, 2023 Town Council meeting, this lack of decision-making by the Town now leaves them fumbling with how to handle an application to build on the vacant lot at 230 Second Avenue West, wedged between the TD Bank and Big Grin Bikes.
Proposed is a three-storey building, commercial tenants on the main floor, a large penthouse suite on the third floor, and on the second floor four to seven smaller rental units, which the owner wishes to rent to short-term visitors.
Technically, there are four rental units planned for this second floor, but three of them have a “lock-off” bedroom with ensuite — essentially a small hotel-like room with separate entrance. It is unclear if the building owner would be renting these three small units directly, or leaving that choice up to the tenant in each of the three units.
The dithering by Council on the STR (short-term rental) issue was painful to observe.
Councillor Anne Skipsey had to ask if the lock-off units could be rented out individually, and hence necessitate a parking space — something that should have been made clear in the Staff report. Planner Luke Sales confessed he didn’t yet know the answer, and would get back at the next meeting. This question has nothing to do with the current developer’s intentions. The new zoning proposed by Sales either permits renting to seven separate tenants, short- or long-term term, or it doesn’t.
Councillor Skipsey also expressed concern that “we do not yet have a framework in place for short-term rentals. We don’t have by-laws that would regulate them. We don’t have a fee structure, a requirement to have them inspected by our Fire Department… It would help level the playing field with the hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.”
In clearly stating her position on the application, Skipsey added: “Until that [framework] is in place, I would prefer to have regular rental units.”
Echoing concerns about STRs, especially in competition with hotels, Councillor Petronella Vander Valk added, “We have no way of knowing which houses are offering short-term rentals. There’s a lot of Airbnb available in the town, we’re not aware of it, and it’s taking away from our long-term rentals — which are in short supply. This may be a better use for this particular property.”
In response to a comment that the owner may be amenable to long-term rentals only, Sales wisely suggested that it would be better to get that confirmed in writing, and he committed to attempt to do so.
In support of short-term rentals, Councillor Jean Young suggested that the Town’s commercial core is the ideal place for STRs, particularly near events taking place at the QB Civic Centre.
Councillor Westbroek raised a good — but as yet unanswered — question. Since short-term rentals are a commercial activity, would the commercial property tax rate apply to the second floor as well as to the first floor? He let it stand as a “rhetorical question.” It wasn’t apparent why the Planning and Finance Directors didn’t answer the question in the meeting.
Bottom-line: First reading was passed by a narrow 3-to-2 vote, with Councillors Skipsey and Vander Valk opposed. There was no commitment to hit the pause button and fast-track a clear, consistent, comprehensive short-term rental policy for the Town — a policy that could and should have been created years ago. — GS