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Pemberton talks Airbnb

VOP hosts community meeting to weigh options for regulation of short-term rentals



Pemberton has decided that it's time to figure out what to do about short-term rentals.

On Tuesday, June 18, the Village of Pemberton (VOP) hosted a get together to inform community members about the regulatory options available.

"It's not black and white. There are benefits and challenges — and that's what makes it an interesting topic for us to discuss and look at," said Dan Wilson, a specialist in community planning with the Centre for Sustainability. He has been hired by the VOP to lead discussions and develop a revised set of bylaws.

He is working closely with town planner Lisa Pedrini, who was also on hand for the event.

Similar to Whistler, many Pemberton homeowners are embracing short-term rentals as a way to earn income. A quick search on Airbnb — the internet platform that has revolutionized the "home sharing economy" — revealed some 90 different places available for rent, from rooms in apartments to entire homes and lodges.

Currently, the lion's share are illegal. Pemberton bylaws require operators to obtain a business license and live in the home that they are renting. Operators can only rent one or two rooms and are required to provide a breakfast to their guests.

The bylaws, which sound quaint by today's standards, were developed in the pre-Airbnb era, explained Wilson to around 18 people who attended the VOP information meeting.

Pemberton will circulate an online survey on short-term rentals to gather community feedback, said Wilson, adding that he is aiming to have the revised set of bylaws ready by fall.

Standing in front of a wall of windows with a view of the skate park that sits across the street from the Pemberton Community Centre, Wilson stressed that many communities are dealing with short-term rental related issues.

They are developing their own unique approaches to regulating them, from outright banning to "limited allowance," he explained.

Nelson, he explained, recently developed legislation that caps the number and only allows three for any given block.

The community did a good job of engaging with the public to strike a solution that works well for everyone, he added.

Throughout the presentation, Wilson laid out both sides of the issue: The popularity of short-term rentals is making it harder for renters to find homes — but they are an important source of income for many.

Yet during the question-and-answer period that followed his presentation, it was clear that people were divided.

"I almost felt like I should stay in an Airbnb tonight," said David Mackenzie, who objected to some of the "lovely, sexy" things Wilson said about the Airbnb market.

Looking polished in shorts and a button-up short sleeved shirt, Mackenzie — who owns Pemberton Valley Lodge and is president of the BC Association of Hotels — complained that Airbnb is riding on the coat tails of the hotel industry, which has built B.C. into an international destination through promotional campaigns that are paid for by hotel taxes, which Airbnbs don't pay.

Airbnbs, he emphasized, don't pay any tax, and that's just not fair. "We have to look at what's building communities, and Airbnb's aren't giving back," said Mackenzie.

In response to MacKenzie's point, a meting attendee retorted, "You can't look at Airbnb as this big beast... they are bringing in tourists to the community, who in turn spend money in local businesses."

Following the event, Wilson told Pique that Pemberton needs to determine what approach is in its best interest, whether it will be more permissive or more regulatory.

Said Wilson: "I can understand why people are emotional. They've been impacted, and it's important to understand that."

More on this story in next week's Dispatches.