There are 532 properties listed on Airbnb in the Comox Valley. Vacation rentals, including Airbnbs, are only permitted in Tourist Accommodation Zones.

Vacation rental owners angered by proposed zoning bylaw

CVRD says required vacation rental zoning hasn’t changed

The idea that vacation rentals will no longer be allowed in the Comox Valley Regional District is just a big misunderstanding, according to Ton Trieu, assistant manager of planning services for the CVRD.

The confusion stems from the addition of the term “vacation rentals” to the proposed Zoning Bylaw 520. The current bylaw, Zoning Bylaw 2781, was adopted in 2005 and has been under review in order to align it with the Regional Growth Strategy and the Official Community Plan. Trieu said the term “vacation rental” was added to the new proposed bylaw because the language did not exist when the bylaw was adopted over 10 years ago.

“One of the comments that has arisen in the last several weeks is the misunderstanding that the CVRD is introducing new regulations to restrict the commercial use of residential dwellings as vacation rentals… The public thinks that we have created this new regulation – which nothing has changed. No changes are proposed to either enable vacation rental use or restrict it.”

Trieu said vacation rentals are only permitted in Tourist Accommodation Zone-designated properties. They are not allowed in residential zones, but people who would like to have a vacation rental on their residential property can contact planning staff to apply to change their zoning.

He emphasizes that these zoning restrictions outlined in Zoning Bylaw 520 are consistent with the current bylaw and any current vacation rentals, including Airbnb, must have the proper zoning.

“We know there are lots of property owners who are using their properties for uses other than permitted in the zoning bylaw. Our goal is to assist people to bring their property into compliance to ensure the compatibility of vacation rentals and that it doesn’t affect the surrounding homes.”

Many current vacation rental owners, however, say there was not enough clarity in the former bylaw or the development process of the proposed bylaw.

Jenny Steel and her husband turned their secondary suite into a vacation rental to serve as a source of income following their retirement.

At the time, she and her husband looked into the bylaws and saw nothing prohibiting them from starting a vacation rental.

“We looked to see if we needed a business permit to do this. We knew we were zoned for bed and breakfast and home occupation so away we went… like everybody else,” she said.

Bed and breakfasts are not considered vacation homes and have their own set of rules. Trieu said bed and breakfasts can operate “in accordance with a zone bylaw home occupation regulation and they are permitted in all residential zones.”

When asked if she was aware of the required zoning change, Steel said, “no, not at all.”

After looking into the proposed bylaw, she said she feels blindsided and she doesn’t believe there was enough public consultation.

“Their position is, ‘well why would we tell you, you weren’t allowed to do it in the first place.’”

Steel believes the majority of the vacation rental owners throughout the district were also unaware of the zoning requirements, something that Carolyn Touhey with the Comox Valley Association of Bed and Breakfasts and Vacation Rentals agrees with.

“It’s quite disheartening that either ambiguity or misunderstanding is really putting many of these businesses in jeopardy,” she said. “If people don’t even know it’s on the books, they don’t know they could be a potential target of a complaint and then have their livelihood [taken away] basically.”

Touhey adds that it does not make sense that there is such a drastic difference between the bylaws for vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts.

A public hearing for the proposed bylaw is being held on Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. in the CVRD boardroom.

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