CITY BRIEFS: City considers levelling playing field for BnBs

by Avery Zingel - July 27, 2018

The city is considering how it will fairly regulate short-term rentals, says senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett.

The city is awaiting council’s direction for work that would see a regulatory framework of short-term rental accommodations, a public engagement process and negotiations with platforms like Airbnb to ensure operators post a business licence.

The regulations could also be developed to mandate the remittance of a tourism tax levy through Airbnb’s platform, a model already employed by other cities with municipal levies.

Coun. Julian Morse stated his conditional support for the regulations, during Monday’s city council meeting.

“I am in support of this, however incredibly hesitantly so. I think we need to have a long think, if we are going to regulate this industry, how we do it in such a way that doesn’t hinder it,” said Morse.

“It’s important to our tourism industry and frankly I think we need to be careful about regulating something that hasn’t really proven to be a problem at all.”

The regulations for regular bed and breakfast (BnB) operators are likely “out of date and not fair,” said Morse.

I’d like us to reduce the amount of regulations we have on BnBs and if we’re going to do regulation of short-term accommodations, we do it in a smart way and we do it in a way that doesn’t stifle the industry,” he said.

Coun. Rebecca Alty agreed with the regulation, while questioning how many BnBs would be in compliance with GNWT rules.

Currently, the city is regulating part but not all of the industry, but holding restrictions for traditional bed and breakfasts without extending the requirement for a business licence to Airbnbs, said Coun. Niels Konge.

The city will consult with members of the public and existing operators as it considers regulation for BnBs, said city officials.

The city must acknowledge that travellers want a variety of accommodation options for visitors, said Bassi-Kellett.

“Lots of people travel and they want to stay in a home-based environment,” she said.

The city is waiting for council’s direction to start consultations and propose a bylaw, said Bassi-Kellett.

The city is focused on creating a “level playing field” for operators, and creating as few barriers as possible without compromising visitor safety, said Bassi-Kellett.

Legislative changes at the territorial level will open the door for the city to enact a tourism tax levy, which can be collected and directly paid out to the city through BnBs platform.

Coun. Adrian Bell expressed concerns about over-regulation.

“Some of this is outside the city’s jurisdiction. This is a growth industry,” said Bell, adding that the city should be wary of regulatory bottlenecks.

The issue will return to council at a later date.

Sidewalk battle put to rest

For months, city councillors have received mixed messages from residents of Calder Crescent about the paving of their street and whether it should have a sidewalk.

Council reversed its decision to create a one-way street with a sidewalk failed Monday.

Instead, residents of Calder Crescent will get parking, a two-way street and no sidewalk.

A petition started by local resident Marcy MacDougall demanded the city install a sidewalk to make the street accessible and safe for kids at play, seniors and pedestrians.

Residents of Calder Crescent filled the council gallery in June, arguing the results of the city’s consultation lacked foresight on safety.

“Accessibility is a big thing for our residents. I think our deliberation over a sidewalk or no sidewalk is a red herring. It’s really about does council, and does our city, want to have a modern, accessible city?” said Revi Lau-a, a resident of the crescent during a June municipal services council meeting.

“Kids often have to walk in the middle of the road. It’s not about the preferences of individuals. It’s about what is appropriate and what is right.”

During proceedings Monday, people opposed to council’s decision to install a one-way heckled councillors from the gallery with antagonistic comments and insults.

Coun. Linda Bussey made a motion Monday that allowed council to reconsider its decision toestablish a one-way street with a sidewalk and parking on both sides of Calder.

With the paving season dwindling away, the street would not have been paved without a decision that night.

“Why don’t you listen to the taxpayers,” shouted one resident who, for months, vocally opposed the sidewalk.

Mayor Mark Heyck pleaded for the woman to stop yelling from the gallery.

“It is not the job of elected officials to design roadways. We pay engineers and planners good money to do that,” said Heyck.

The city does not want to “open a can of worms” on capital projects in the future, he said.

“It’s been two months since this motion passed, and we’re still here sitting and talking about it with considerable extra expense. It’s absolute folly in my mind, we’re just throwing around options now and that’s not how legislative decisions should be made.”

The decision should not have been a legislative one, he said.

The city does not have any design standards for accessibility, which has repeatedly been brought up at previous council meetings addressing Calder Crescent’s ongoing sidewalk debate.

New development appeal board members named

During city council’s Monday meeting, council appointed Justin Adams, Bill Gault and Terry Testart to the City of Yellowknife Development Appeal Board for three years.