The burgeoning tiny home trend could be coming to Tofino while owners of large homes face being barred from the local tourism industry.
District staff have been working on a complete rewrite of the town’s zoning bylaws for the past two years and one of the most significant changes might be what they’ve left out of the final draft.
“We’re removing minimum dwelling size,” said manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers. “People can decide to build whatever size of house that suits them. “
Under the current bylaw, homes must be a minimum of 750 sq. ft., but Rodgers said that mandate has forced some property owners to build houses larger than they desired and put an unnecessary barrier in the way of affordability.
“We’re trying to be more flexible. People’s needs are changing over the years. Not everybody wants to build a bigger house,” he said. “We’re offering more choice and more flexibility in the housing market.”
The zoning bylaw’s revision was ordered by Tofino’s municipal council in 2016 as part of its proactive fight against illegal vacation rentals and Rodgers said much of the changes his team has presented involve clarifying definitions and cleaning up roughly 20 years worth of zoning bylaw accumulation.
“We’re basically just tightening up the vacation rental and bed and breakfast rules so that, as we move forward, they’re clearer, more transparent and easily enforceable,” he said. “The zoning bylaw is old and cranky and missing words. So, if you interpret it to the letter of the bylaw, which we do, we can’t do things that were probably intended to happen.”
While the revised bylaw looks to nix minimum house sizes, it’s also putting a new maximum size restriction on residences that offer a bed and breakfast or short term rental. Homes with more than three bedrooms will not be permitted to offer short term rentals and homes with more than four bedrooms will not be permitted to operate a bed and breakfast.
Currently, all homes within Tofino’s residential zones are permitted to operate a B and B, provided they have a business licence and only rent out a maximum of three rooms, but Rodgers said the district’s bylaw team has struggled to monitor operations closely enough to know how many rooms a residence is renting out. He said for-profit accommodation is meant to be a secondary use for a family residence, but the district is seeing illegal “mini-hotels” popping up.
“We walk away and the next thing we know, they’re renting out all six rooms,” he said. “We just want to make sure that the rules are tight and fair across the board,”
Rodgers said anyone currently holding a business licence for either a short term rental or B and B would be grandfathered in as legal, regardless of the amount of rooms in their home, but any new applications would be subject to the size limit.
He added that the use must be continuous in order to remain grandfathered, meaning anyone who stops operating their rental or B and B for six months would be forced into the new legislation.
He said property values should stay safe as a sold home’s grandfathered use as a B and B or vacation rental will remain intact as long as the new owner applies for a business licence early in the process.
“As long as the use continues, you’re fine,” he said.
The proposed bylaw was expected to go through a public hearing process on April 24, but an internal error at the district office caused an advertising mixup that forced the hearing to be rescheduled to May 22.