Crowsnest council approves rezoning for Blairmore property

·3 min read

"If you want the present to be different from the past,” wrote Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, “study the past.”

While a historical education certainly helps, municipal governments have another tool in changing today from tomorrow: rezoning properties.

Crowsnest Pass council unanimously approved Bylaw 1075-2021 during the May 4 council meeting, changing the zoning of a property in Blairmore from public P1 to a multi-residential designation. The rezoning changes what the property’s building can be used for.

The building was originally a church before the Nippon Institute of Technology took ownership 20 years ago. Now, Graham Pye and Andrea Marchand have purchased the property with the intent of turning it into a four-suite residential property. The couple wants to live in one of the apartments while renting out the other three.

“We want to restore and keep an old building functional and in good shape,” Mr. Pye said during the meeting’s public hearing. “We hope that we can live within a really nice community and basically help that area of Blairmore to retain that sort of architectural historic nature that it already has.”

Though not opposing rezoning, an area resident voiced concerns the project could eventually lead to the property being used for short-term vacation rentals.

“I don’t have an issue with three leased suites to regular tenant type business,” said Jeff Paulsen. “But I do have issues with it if it’s going to be turned into some sort of vacation rental.”

Allowing short-term vacation rentals at the site, said Mr. Paulsen, would create problems with parking and snow removal.

Using the property for short-term rentals provided through companies like Airbnb or Vrbo, Mr. Paulsen added, was a possibility because they are easy ways to secure revenue. “If it were me buying that building and I was thinking about how I was going to pay for it, plus the renovations, I’m going to be wanting to bring dollars in,” he said.

Mr. Paulsen requested that council eventually enact regulations to control how short-term vacation properties would be established and operated.

Municipalities across the globe have experienced issues with vacation rental companies like Airbnb creating housing shortages for residents as more landlords convert rental spaces for higher profit, with quiet residential neighbourhoods turning into transient hotel districts.

The current lack of oversight also raises questions about vacation companies’ accountability for things like tax collection and municipal zoning. Critics of vacation companies say lack of regulation also creates unfair competition with businesses that have to follow stricter rules, like hotels and bed and breakfasts.

In a conversation with the Breeze after the meeting, Ms. Marchand and Mr. Pye said their goal had always been converting the building to long-term rental spaces and that they had no intention of pursuing short-term vacation opportunities.

Council members also acknowledged the problems with vacation rental companies were legitimate, but the conversation was outside the scope of the zoning bylaw.

“We’ve talked about this being an issue in the past before,” said Coun. Dean Ward. “Today, we don’t regulate Vrbos or any of that stuff. What I do know is we are in desperate need for rental accommodation — for people to find anything nowadays is very difficult.”

“All we’re talking about tonight is the rezoning of this property,” he continued, “which I’m in favour of doing.”

The plan proposed by Mr. Pye and Ms. Marchand, Coun. Doreen Glavin added, would also address some of the concerns Mr. Paulsen expressed during the public hearing.

“The concept plan is built for this rezoning so it has the proper amount of alternate parking stalls, it has plans for snow storage, so that might alleviate some of Jeff’s concerns as well,” she said.

Ms. Marchand and Mr. Pye hope to have the renovations completed in order for the property to be rented out by next spring.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze

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