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Short stays get going

Geoff Helisma | Implementation of new short-term rental accommodation (STRA) regulations in the Clarence Valley is anything but clear, despite councillors deciding to restrict STRA to 180 days per annum in R2 low density residential areas, when the owner is not onsite. Clarence Valley Council (CVC) was responding to the NSW Government’s request for councils to identify how they would implement the new STRA planning framework. Across other zonings and in R2 areas where the property owner resides on site, short-term rentals will be permissible 365 days a year without requiring a development application (DA). In its submission to the NSW Government, CVC has also requested that it allow people who want to let more than 180 days in R2 zones, to apply “on merit” for a DA. In September 2017, CVC sent letters to property owners allegedly conducting STRA without approval and threatened legal action, including fines of up to $3,000 for individuals and $6,000 for corporations. However, councillors adopted a ‘wait and see’ resolution and stopped the legal action, pending finalisation of STRA legislation. The council’s environment, planning and community director, Des Schroder, said in a media release that “the new framework potentially makes [STRA in R2 zones without a DA] legal for the first time, and the proposed registration system by the NSW Government allows the activity to be regulated for the first time”. “Council, in its submission, is trying to balance neighbourhood and economic impacts,” he said. “It should be noted that most areas on the Yamba hill are not in an R2 zone and are not covered by the council resolution.” Mr Schroder said CVC was also seeking assurances that the Department of Fair Trading would be resourced adequately to meet the compliance and registration requirements of a code of conduct to avoid additional impact on councils. He said the framework was a NSW Government policy and inquiries should be directed there. Meanwhile, at the November round of CVC committee meetings, Vicki Seekamp (principal of Elders Real Estate, Yamba) and Geoff Beresford, spokesperson for the Yamba Resident’s Action Group, made deputations. The group previously made a submission to CVC alleging that it had identified “approximately 60 houses that are holiday lets in R2 zones, contrary to council zoning regulations”. Mr Beresford welcomed limiting stays to 180 days a year in R2 zones, however, he sought to influence councillors to impose a universal 180-day limit, “to seek a level playing field across the valley [and to] ensure the number of [STRA] properties never overwhelms or diminishes the number of commercial operators within the Clarence Valley”. “We understand that tourism is extremely important to our community, particularly to commercial operators,” he said, and argued that restricting the 180-day limit to only R2 zones “ignores the existing and potential long-term effect on commercial accommodation operators who [will] have to compete and comply in an unfair environment.’ “It [would] also fail to take into account the amenity of permanent residents outside of the selected areas,” he said. “We feel it is extremely important for [CVC] to adopt a long-term strategic view, taking into account the potential negative effect a 365 day cap [would] place on residents and commercial operators in the Clarence Valley.” Mr Beresford did not speak about his group’s previous complaints, which included ‘party houses’ and other impacts on permanent residents’ amenity. Vicki Seekamp told councillors that she “managed the highest number of properties” and was on call to answer complaints 24/7. She said that she had not received any in 2018 and only one in 2017. However, following the meeting, she issued a document that addressed associated issues. She said voting to limit stays to 180 days per year in the nominated R2 zones, while people with properties in other zones could trade 365 days a year, was “discriminatory”. She wrote that accommodation availability would be halved and that tourism dollars, jobs and property investment would be negatively impacted due to the resultant “restriction to trade”. However, when the Independent asked Ms Seekamp how many properties she managed in R2 zones and how many of those were rented more than 180 days, she declined to comment. The councillors’ decision only applies to low density residential zones in Yamba, Iluka, Angourie, Wooloweyah, Brooms Head, Sandon, Wooli, Diggers Camp, and Minnie Water.