Cranbrook opposes home based business changes

Cranbrook's regional district representatives are objecting to proposed new home based business regulations for rural areas.

Cranbrook’s regional district representatives are objecting to proposed new home based business regulations for rural areas.

The Regional District of East Kootenay has been preparing draft regulations for both major and minor home based businesses in rural areas. Those regulations were presented to the board of directors on Friday, March 1 for approval to start the bylaw process.

But four directors were opposed to the draft regulations — all but one municipal director affected by the major business category. Cranbrook’s Mayor Wayne Stetski and Councillor Bob Whetham, Sparwood Mayor Lois Halko, and Elkford Mayor Dean McKerracher all said their communities could be negatively affected if the regulations go ahead as drafted.

If the regulations are approved as proposed, there will be two categories of home based business, depending on where the home is located. Minor home based business — such as child care, a hobby sawmill or a bed and breakfast — will be allowed throughout the region, but major home based business — a portable sawmill, woodworking business, trade contracting or metal working — would only be permitted in parts of Area A (around Fernie), and all of Area C (around Cranbrook).

Businesses in the regional district outside of municipalities are not required to have a business licence, but zoning and land use bylaws regulate things like the number of employees, the maximum business area, the number of commercial vehicles and what retail products are available for sale.

The major home based business category is the one causing concern for Cranbrook, with Mayor Stetski pointing out that allowing industrial uses outside city limits could have negative impacts on Cranbrook.

“I think there’s some value in trying to accommodate and legitimize existing businesses but we’re opening up a new future with more industry going outside of our communities and that I think is a risk,” he said.

“We had a lot of discussion … about the potential negative impact on those communities that are trying to build an industrial base within their boundaries to benefit their citizens both in terms of taxes and services,” he went on.

Councillor Whetham said that allowing businesses to move outside town where they won’t be subject to the same taxes creates an inequitable situation.

“It becomes an incentive to move small businesses out of the rural areas. I don’t think that’s really the intent,” he said.

“I think this is opening up an inequitable situation in terms of locating industry out in the rural areas.”

Board Chair and Area C Director Rob Gay reminded the directors that they would go through a lengthy public process over the regulations which would provide more chance to revise the regulations. But, he said, the intention is to accommodate industrial businesses that already exist outside city limits.

“I’d prefer major businesses move into the industrial area of the city. But it’s the sign writers, the woodworkers … there are so many other things that I know are going on in the rural area that we are trying to recognise,” said Chair Gay.

Directors Heath Slee and Gerry Taft both insisted the regional district should be supporting small businesses whenever it can.

“On this issue I’d rather take a bigger view that enabling some of these people to stay in the region or enabling some of the people to start a business is better for everybody even if in the initial stages the municipality isn’t getting their … commercial tax,” said Taft, Mayor of Invermere.

Director Slee (Area B) said small businesses are very important for rural areas.

“We don’t want to jeopardize any of these small businesses that are willing to operate in our rural areas. Once you lose your school and your post office, it’s the small businesses that bind our rural communities together,” he said.

The regional district board voted to proceed through the bylaw process on the regulations, which will likely come back for first reading in a month before going to the public consultation stage.