This is part two of a three-part series addressing the main topics community members said they want municipal candidates to be clear on this election season — Infrastructure, affordable housing and balancing the needs of tourists and residents.
Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM) is a unique community. Its permanent population continues to grow at a rapid rate, but the village wouldn’t be what it is today without Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR). In fact, tourism drives around 90 per cent of the economy.
This means the municipality is tasked with finding a balance between the needs of visitors and residents.
Within this conversation is also the topic of short term rentals (STRs). On Oct. 4, the current council approved amendments to the STR policy, but it can be reviewed by future councils.
SPIN spoke with all nine candidates running for SPMRM council about their views on STRs and the needs of visitors and residents.
Sorge said finding a balance between visitors and residents should be evaluated on an ongoing basis.
“On one hand, you want to have Sun Peaks be a real community, right? We’re trying to build a permanent population,” Sorge said. “I moved here when it was 300 people and now there’s well over 1,000, and I think that that’s been a real positive for the community.”
However, Sorge pointed out that tourism is the primary industry in Sun Peaks, so it’s important for the municipality to facilitate long-term growth in areas like the East Village.
“I think the approach you want to take if we’re expanding tourism and short term rental up here is to look at areas that we can build more,” Sorge said. “Building more units is going to have far more of an impact than converting some small number of current residential areas into short term rental.”
Sorge said once the second village is built in the east of the community, there will be more hotel and STR space there for visitors.
“I do understand some of the concerns for folks up here who want to do rentals,” he said. “But I think when there’s so many areas up here that allow short term rental, that should really be the focus.”
Richins, a former professor and dean of adventure, culinary arts and tourism at Thompson Rivers University, said enhancing the experience for visitors is one of his key values as a candidate.
“Most people that are at Sun Peaks started as visitors of some sort,” Richins said. “If the community is well cared for, the visitors can be well cared for … I think they go hand in hand, and I don’t think one is at the expense of another.”
He said he’s in favour of short term rentals because they’re an important aspect in meeting the needs of tourists.
“We need well-managed approaches and we need to have evidence-based decision making in how we do things. We can’t just use a few anecdotal criticisms to make a decision about the future,” he said.
Richins said some owners might not be abiding by the rules and those properties should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
The updated STR policy requires properties with temporary use permits to have someone to live on-site. Richins said he doesn’t think that is the best way to move forward because it won’t necessarily solve noise or parking issues.
“We have a number of management companies that have been working for years to make sure that we have good approaches to nightly rentals in the condos, the townhouses, and the houses. And we need to make sure that continues in a positive way,” he said.
O’Toole said there is no perfect answer to balancing the needs of visitors and residents.
“The community seems quite divided on the subject matter, but I see all facets of it,” O’Toole said. “The solution is that we have to develop a system and a culture and a set of bylaws that allow for those two things to coexist.”
In his current term as councillor, O’Toole moved the motion to approve the amendments to the STR policy and said he understands they won’t be able to make every community member happy.
“People seem to think that council is trying to eliminate or put a stranglehold on people’s ability to operate nightly rentals. I can say for me personally, that’s absolutely not the case,” O’Toole said.
“I have a vested interest in a business that I own that also obviously benefits greatly from the nightly rental market. But I also know that if there’s not a place for employees to live, then my business, along with every other business in this community, won’t be open seven days a week.”
He added that although most STR properties follow the rules, there are some outliers that cause issues.
“It’s finding a balance between creating some structure that ensures that the few percentage points that aren’t following the rules are held accountable, but at the same time not inhibiting those that do it the right way.”
Oetter said the most important goal should be housing people who want to work in Sun Peaks. She added the current council is on the right track with changes to the STR policy and the updated OCP, which will zone new subdivisions as tourist accommodation or residential use based on proximity to amenities.
“[There is] angst that is happening in our community, where people are feeling pitted against each other,” Oetter said. “In the draft OCP they’re saying that future developments are going to either be short term rentals or residential, and that zoning is going to be strictly adhered to. I really think that that’s a good idea … it takes out the ambiguity.”
Oetter said having distinct areas for residential and short term rentals could also help reduce complaints from neighbours about issues like parking.
Additionally, she said the requirement of having a long-term tenant live on-site for temporary use permits has also raised some concern among community members and therefore should be an aspect councillors relook at.
“But again, having an on-site manager means we’re providing more long term accommodation, and then we’ve got that balance.” she said. “If we have visitors come to our mountain and restaurants are closed and they can’t really access services easily and well [because workers can’t find housing], they’re not going to come back … Having said that, this is a complex decision.”
(According to the amended STR policy, a TUP’s on-site tenant does not need to be the property manager.)
Oetter can be reached by email at [email protected].
Kimmel said the needs of visitors and residents don’t always have to be treated as two separate items.
“When we do something positive for the community, we’re probably doing something positive for tourism as well,” Kimmel said. “A playground, a splash park, a skate park — All of those will be positives for our community … but they’re also positives for tourists.”
Kimmel said the key is finding a balance between long-term housing and STRs. When it comes to the current council’s updated policy, Kimmel said she’d like to look at changing the requirement of having a long-term tenant live on-site for temporary use permits.
“I think if they’re on mountain, that perhaps is close enough,” she said. “Then we help a local business by using some of the property management companies available to perhaps be on-mountain site supervisors.”
Kimmel said property owners should also be held accountable if they don’t follow the rules. She added the municipality needs to create a database to track properties that continuously receive complaints.
“Everything needs to be simple and easy to understand in terms of the regulations, and be enforceable,” Kimmel said.
“I think that there’s so many ways of creating a situation where the public understands the reasoning behind what’s going on and changes in zoning. And I think that’s really, really important here, especially as we are such a rapidly growing community.”
Kimmel can be reached by email at [email protected].
Hrycan said in a general sense, tourism needs will be largely met by the resort, while the municipality is responsible for more of the community aspects.
“One of the things that we enjoy at Sun Peaks, and it’s somewhat unique because of its foundation as a resort, is that we have a tremendous amount of social cohesion,” Hrycan said.
“No matter which part of the community you’re in, everybody generally believes in that long-term vision — that goal for the future. So I think that bodes well for us in terms of being able to progressively move forward.”
In reference to STRs, Hrycan said the current council has done well in addressing the fact that there are more tourists than there is accommodation. He added the municipality needs to be more clear on zoning classifications moving forward.
Hrycan said problems can appear with STRs when they are in residential areas and visitors aren’t being respectful of their neighbours.
“The rules [should be] very clear going in for all operators as to what their commitment is in terms of compatibility within the neighbourhoods,” he said. “But in the long term, I don’t think we can survive as a world class resort without having some of that type of accommodation in the community.”
Eidher said it’s the municipality’s job to think of the community first, not tourism. However, she said she recognizes tourism is how many residents make a living.
“I do think there should be limited short term rentals,” Eidher said. “It is going to affect some people for sure … But there’s not going to be any tourism if we don’t have staff living here.”
She said the current council’s new STR policy might not be a perfect plan, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to her.
“You’ll never have a perfect plan, but I think they’re on to something,” Eidher said. “I don’t think it’s a one-person answer. I think we need to actually sit and analyze the problem as a team, and listen and hear and reflect on what’s being said to us from the community.”
Dye said it’s important to remember Sun Peaks is primarily a resort.
“If Sun Peaks does not have varying different kinds of accommodation to rent, we are going to be excluding a large part of the market,” Dye said.
“It’s important for the resort and the community that we do need to have short term rentals available. My take on it is if you’re running a short term rental, you’re running a business. You need to run your business in a responsible manner which does not negatively impact your neighbours and other people around you.”
Dye also said he agrees with the updated OCP that it’s important moving forward for the zoning to be clear from the beginning.
In terms of existing rentals and zoning, Dye said the municipality needs to be stricter on enforcing consequences for owners who don’t follow the rules.
“There’s always going to be some guests with poor behaviour,” he said. “But if we continue to have a few places that are not following the rules and are causing problems for their neighbours and guests, these people need to be dealt with or lose their licences … there needs to be some penalties.”
Dye can be reached by email at [email protected].
Ashton said the municipality’s relationship with tourism should be give and take, which involves increasing the amount of short term rentals that are available.
“We live in a resort community, so we are aware that we do need rentals here,” Ashton said.
“We have to work together and it can’t be one side against the other. And this whole thing with [temporary use permits] and with short term rentals, basically it’s pitting side against side, which isn’t right.”
Ashton said if there is a problem with a STR, neighbouring residents should be consulted and involved in the process because it’s in everyone’s best interest to resolve it.
“Communication is key in all of this, and that’s the thing that I think has fallen apart in Sun Peaks over the past while,” he said. “I would want to see more communication and more transparency, whether it’s informing residents via mail, via email — whatever it is, they need to be made aware.”
Ashton said more workshops could be helpful in these discussions but that overall, more public information would help balance the needs of residents and visitors.
Voting day is Oct. 15. For more information on how to vote and who is eligible, read our story here.