Clarence Valley Council building in Grafton.
Clarence Valley Council building in Grafton. Caitlan Charles

Short-term accommodation a conflicting issue for council

THE geographical spread and diversity of short-term accommodation demands within the Clarence Valley Council boundaries was one that required nuanced considerations, it was revealed, as deputations and debate got under way at Tuesday's Environment Planning and Community committee meeting.

The council is in the process of deciding which state government framework (180 or 365 days of trading, or variations of the two) would be more suitable to the Clarence area for private short-stay operators that function through sites like Airbnb and other privately managed residential holiday lettings. Larger commercial businesses fall under tourist and visitor accommodation operators in which case this new framework would not apply.

Yamba's Geoff Beresford, a leading opponent to the all-year round option, said in his deputation to the council that besides the noise issues with residents, he was concerned about the long-term negative effect 365 days would have on established commercial providers as they would be "competing in an unfair environment" given the administration involved in running a larger operation.

Principal of Elders Yamba and Maclean Vicki Seekamp said she had a good insight into the short-stay accommodation market as Elders had the highest number of holiday property lettings between Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay on their books.

"I'm the one that gets all the calls, any time any day, and in 2018 I have had not one complaint in regard to noise or disturbance in any of the the properties we manage. In 2017 I had one complaint in July about an 80-year-old's lunchtime barbecue with five people because they were talking too loud."

She said she believed Yamba was a two-fold market, with workers in the area and the tourism side "which is very strong".

"We don't have a booking available until January. Naturally, we don't want to end up like Byron Bay and we are already governed to the teeth from the real estate point of view. But we need to retain 365 days of the year to support an economy and industry creating employment."

In response to councillor questions querying coastal "party houses", MsSeekemp said they vetted their guests very carefully and had a 'no-party policy'. "Everyone staying with us is aware we have no tolerance for that," but she appreciated that auto-booking sites didn't offer the same level of scrutiny.

Director of Environment, Planning and Community Des Schroder said whatever guidelines were approved by the State Government would be the overriding policy.

"To be absolutely clear, this (the number of days one could operate) will apply to every (legal) dwelling in every zoning in NSW but they are still in the process of looking at nuanced areas like ours," MrSchroder said.

He said the Clarence Valley was "a very geographically dispersed area" and that had to be taken into consideration when choosing between 365 or 180 days. "I don't think the (state) Department of Planning got that. I think they were thinking about Byron or Yamba when they thought about this.

"We are worried if you are in Grafton running a business like that and all of a sudden you put 180 days on workers' accommodation that is causing no issues, all of a sudden you might have to close down. That's the issue we have here and need clarity on that.

"The complaints are coming from coastal villages, not Grafton. There is different short-stay clientele between Yamba and Grafton and we need to take that into consideration and council will be reinforcing this issue with its feedback (to the state government)."

Councillor Greg Clancy believed that reducing the number of days wasn't addressing the real issue and that it was more about the management of short-term rentals.

Mr Schroder agreed. "The real guts of it is making sure people are behaving (which is being addressed as part of the plan) but they (state government) are also worried about the economic impact on the regions which is why we have been asked for our feedback."

Councillors Clancy, Williamson, Simmons and Baker voted in favour of motion. Cr Novak voted against it.

The final decision for the "hotly anticipated" short-term rental framework advice for the Clarence Valley will be decided at tonight's full council meeting.

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