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Debate on: resort municipality versus tourist town terms tossed around in council

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
March 5th, 2024

The age-old discussion of Nelson as resort municipality or simple tourist town again reared its head in council chambers.

In light of city council being mandated to employ the province’s new short-term rental regulations and penalties in place of its own — but resort municipalities being exempt from the provincial changes — the debate was ignited.

Coun. Keith Page lit the tinder by making a motion during a March 5 city council meeting to direct a letter to the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs, requesting authorities to have Nelson considered for addition to the B.C. resort municipality status for the purpose of setting its own rules regarding short term rentals. He stopped short of requesting full resort municipality status for the city.

Within the new legislation there were additional “tools” available for resort municipalities, Page contended, of which Nelson now falls outside of that caveat.

“And I think this is a place where we press our distinctiveness and the appropriate inclusion in that program for the City of Nelson,” he said.

City manager Kevin Cormack said there were 14 resort municipalities in B.C. that exclusively shared in a pool of money earmarked for member municipalities.

“As a resort municipality there is a whole act and resort regulations that are quite different than having the authorities to manage our short term rentals the way we feel,” he said.

Coun. Jesse Woodward agreed, noting that the resort municipality clubhouse was either an all-in or out situation.

“You are basically asking for (the provincial government) to make Nelson a unique item in all of B.C., because you are saying we are not a resort municipality but you want benefits from being a resort municipality,” he said.

Page felt the city should still ask for some consideration.

“I think it is something we should explore, given that we are so close to a ski hill and we deal with many of the challenges, if not all of the challenges, of many other resort municipalities,” he said. “It’s been brought up at this table before, so it seems like the opportune time to (revisit it).”

A request to be added to the list of resort municipalities is the same as asking to become a resort municipality, Cormack said. He agreed that council, and previous councils, have gone to the province in the past asking for resort municipality status.

“Clearly, we are touted across the province as one of those tourism places and we think current criteria doesn’t reflect our community,” Page said. “So that’s asking for what we’ve asked for for a long time (status); the consequence of that is it would also give us the authorities around how we manage short-term rentals.”

Coun. Jesse Peneiro quickly stepped in.

“Personally, I have no interest in living in a resort community,” he said. “I don’t see how exempting our short-term rentals from any constraints at all is going to help the housing crisis for the people that live and work here. I think I am quite fine with having a principal residence and a short-term rental and I think it is totally reasonable, and I have zero interest in living in Whistler.”

Woodward said the issue of designation as a resort community was an issue which needed further, separate discussion.

“I think it is a much, much larger issue and I feel very uncomfortable with what is happening here,” he said.

Being designated as a resort municipality could come with money to help with affordable housing, said Coun. Leslie Payne, and it wouldn’t change the nature of Nelson.

“Sending a letter to explore that and, as something that has been discussed, I would presume not just in the last council but in previous councils, does our personality or who we are change just because of a different designation? … I think it is something that is worth exploring,” she said.

Peneiro said it would change the community.

The resort municipality legislation allows the cities that are in that designation to have additional powers, not less, to obtain resources to deal with the crisis come with being a resort municipality, Page explained.

“Additional supports would, in fact, come to support affordable housing, not hinder it,” he said. “The point is to have the conversation now about the additional powers; it does not change who we are.”

The motion to send the letter of inquiry failed after a council vote.

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