Regional District gauges vacation homes in Robson Valley

mount robson

By: Korie Marshall

The Regional District board has delayed consideration of a temporary use permit for two vacation homes near Mount Robson. Ken Starchuck, Director for Area H, says the delay was due to some outstanding paperwork, which he expects will be filed before the August board meeting. But the owner of the property says the district’s definitions should be updated.

An application has been filed with the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George to allow the use of two residences near Swift Current Creek as vacation home rentals. The property is currently zoned RR1 (Rural Residential) which allows a bed and breakfast, but does not allow tourist accommodation. Carmen Ottaway, co-owner of the property, says what she wants to offer – like many other homes in the area – is not that different from a bed and breakfast. The property currently has two residences. Ottaway wants to be able to rent either of them out, and reside in the other, or if both homes are rented, she says she would reside in the residence on their adjacent property.

Kenna Jonkman from the regional district’s planning department explains that a bed and breakfast means the accommodation is contained fully in someone’s residential home; it is limited to a maximum of four bedrooms; and it is operated by the owner who also lives in the residence. A bed and breakfast is primarily a residence, with the accommodation being secondary or accessory.

Tourist accommodation on the other hand, is defined in the zoning bylaw as a commercial use, providing temporary accommodation for the public and tourists. It does not have the same restrictions as a bed and breakfast does. Jonkman says tourist accommodation is usually the focus of the property, and it is not permitted in many rural zones where bed and breakfasts are.

Ottaway says the difference between a bed and breakfast and what she wants to offer is simply that she will not be sleeping under the same roof at the same time as her guests. She says classifying her property as commercial would mean a three-fold increase in taxes, when she’d be making the same kind of revenue as she would with a bed and breakfast. It’s a prospect she says has other local vacation home owners scared.

“Here we are a community and area struggling to identify itself, to reinvent itself, as something, anything, after the implosion of the logging industry,” said Ottaway via email. “Tourism is of course a brilliant and really, the only choice – the bones of the business plan are all around us – the spectacular mountain vistas.”

Ottaway says people who want to stay in a vacation home don’t want hotel rooms or bed and breakfasts – they want vacation homes. She says they help the traveler because groups can stay together – a family or a group of friends – and not have to share the facilities with other groups. And she says they help the community because there is typically a three day minimum stay, so people spend their money in the community – helping local merchants and other small businesses, especially recreational ones.

A temporary use permit would allow Ottaway to rent out her homes as vacation rentals, but she says that won’t be the end of the issue. At the public hearing on June 18th, Starchuck said there are approximately 13 vacation homes in the Robson Valley. He said someone would have to bring the issue to the Regional District to initiate changes to the regulations for vacation homes.

At the public hearing, one neighbouring family voiced opposition to the permit, saying a “significant commercial business” in the residential area would affect their peaceful enjoyment of their own property, and would be detrimental to the neighbourhood.

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