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The Regional District of East Kootenay is drafting bylaws that will loosen the types of home-based businesses allowed in rural areas

Despite fierce opposition by some of its members, the Regional District of East Kootenay board of directors is proceeding with plans to change home-based business regulations.

On Friday, August 2, the board voted nine to six in favour of drafting bylaws that would change the types of home-based businesses allowed in the regional district outside municipalities.

Directors Wayne Stetski and Bob Whetham of Cranbrook, and Lois Halko of Sparwood, were the most outspoken against the proposed regulations. They were joined in their vote against the changes by Directors Dean McKerracher of Elkford, Gerry Wilkie of Area G (north of Radium) and Ute Juras of Canal Flats.

The Regional District of East Kootenay has been preparing draft regulations for both major and minor home-based businesses in rural areas.

There will be two categories of home based business, depending on where the home is located. Minor home-based business – such as child care or a bed and breakfast – will be allowed throughout the region, but major home-based business – a portable sawmill, woodworking business, trade contracting and metal working – would only be permitted in parts of electoral areas A (around Sparwood) and C (around Cranbrook). In Area C, major home-based business would be approved on a site-by-site basis.

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.

It’s the major home-based business category that is causing concern for municipal directors.

“This bylaw is a significant departure from the rural-urban delineation,” said Cranbrook Mayor Wayne Stetski.

“To start turning rural areas into business areas is absolutely wrong.”

Cranbrook Councillor Bob Whetham said that allowing industrial businesses in rural areas is “a big step backward”.

“This is not going to create harmony in rural areas,” he said. “I think we are getting away from the principles of planning and getting into things that cannot be properly regulated.

“If we open the door, we are looking for problems.”

Stetski and Whetham both pointed out that in parts of Area C where Cranbrook provides fire services, the fire department may not be able to fight fires on industrial properties because of a lack of hydrants.

“We can try to deal with residential fires but if we’re getting into industrial use, we’re not equipped to do that,” said Whetham.

Area A director Mike Sosnowksi, whose constituents are around Fernie and Sparwood, is the main proponent of the regulations.

“The other directors make it sound like a big bad wolf but it isn’t,” he said.

“It’s important that rural people get the opportunity to support themselves on their property.

“It’s mostly for individuals that are loggers or who have small trucking companies or backyard mechanical – that they are allowed to keep the businesses that they presently have by making them legal.”

Now that the regulations have been approved by the board, regional district staff will draft a set of bylaws. These bylaws will come back to the board for first and second reading before proceeding to public hearing.

Stetski implored the public to provide feedback about the home-based business regulations once they are up for consultation.

“I think this is one of the most important issues that has come before the board while I’ve been here,” he said.

“I really encourage everybody in Area C and Area A and in the cities surrounded by those areas to take an interest in the public hearings, to come and let your voice be heard in terms of who you would like to see as your future neighbour and how viable your cities are if this bylaw is approved.”