‘Divisive’ short stays debate drives wedge in council ranks
Four councillors who vowed during the March election to uphold the new Noosa Plan have stood their ground today voting down an attempt to make short-term lettings in low density residential areas a consistent use for a single dwelling.
Cr Amelia Lorentson, who moved the failed amendment before the new Noosa Plan was adopted, and Mayor Clare Stewart vehemently opposed the final vote to make short stays in these areas an inconsistent use requiring an application to council.
They were supported by fellow newcomer Cr Karen Finzel, but the other council first-timer Cr Tom Wegener threw his support behind Deputy Mayor Frank Wilkie, Cr Joe Jurisevic and Brian Stockwell.
The council will now have to monitor the impact of the these short stays provisions for a period of two years and report back to the state minister the results and whether any amendments are required.
However, all councillors were in favour of Cr Lorentson's other change that will introduce a local law for short-term letting, including an associated code of conduct to regulate these stays.
And in the final vote to formally adopt the overall 2020 Noosa Plan, Cr Finzel voted in favour while Cr Stewart and Cr Lorentson voted against for a 5-2 margin.
Short-term lettings and their impacts on Noosa, from what council staff claim applies 6000 non-owner occupier properties, was one of the defining issues of the election and today drove a wedge between council solidarity.
"One of the reasons I ran for council was because of the short-term accommodation debate," Cr Lorentson said.
She said this had created "massive divide in the community".
"I was approached to help fix the divide and bring clarity and perspective to this debate," she said.
"I was approached to represent (a) large group of people in this community who were not being heard.
"According to my numbers at the election booth, that was 10,600 residents not being heard or nearly 40 per cent of the people that voted at the March election."
Cr Lorentson said over the last five years, council had received only 32 formal written complaints or an average of five annually about noise from short-term accommodation, compared to 508 complaints over 12 months about barking dogs.
"Council decided to change legislation to appease five people out of 55,000 residents," she said.
"I am here because 40 per cent of Noosa voters were outraged by this decision."
Cr Lorentson said this situation was made worse "because the solution to the imaginary problem did not involve in my opinion proper or effective consultation".
"In my opinion the community was bombarded with a scare campaign about the evils of short-term accommodation … thankfully the community did not believe the hysteria and decided to vote me into council," she said.
Ms Lorentson said the right thing to do would be to go back to the former council position, which made short-term stays in low density residential consistent but impact assessable.
She said the proposed plan if not amended would see existing short-term stays in low density enjoy existing rights, while their neighbours were denied "equal rights" in an "unfair, undemocratic" system.
Ms Lorentson then quoted the former Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts who said these changes would be unenforceable "with the risk of significant litigation against council".
Cr Frank Wilkie refuted there was anything inappropriate with the short-stay proposals and received confirmation from senior staff that the plan had passed all state reviews.
He was told any neighbour without short-stay rights would have a 12-month period to apply for this accommodation under the provisions of the superseded planning scheme application.
The cost of that would be $1380 for a 30-day assessment.
"The short-stay letting debate has been a divisive issue into this community," Cr Finzel said.
"The Queensland Government is committed to ensuring council decisions are made against a backdrop of openness and transparency."
She spoke up for vulnerable homeowners who rent out their homes to help keep a roof over their head and may not have $1380.
Cr Wilkie was told by council environment and sustainable development director Kim Rawlings that "the new plan actually makes it a lot easier than the current planning scheme for people in that exact situation to rent out part of their house for short-stay accommodation".
Ms Rawlings said the $1380 applied for whole houses where the owner does not live there, such as investment homes.
Under the new plan, owner occupiers would be able to host home stays without having to make application to council or pay a fee.
They would be able to let their entire home four times a year for up to 60 days a year if, for example, they went away on holidays.
Cr Stockwell said a range of national and international research institutes have found that to do what Cr Lorentson's amendment aims to do by making low density an acceptable use, "reduces the availability and increases the price of permanent rental accommodation and places upward pressure on housing prices".
"In Byron (Bay) there are around 50 holiday rental vacancies for every permanent rental available for local residents," he said.
As for the Noosa election vote for those who supported the new plan: "49,000 votes were cast for those four, just under 21,000 for those who didn't make that commitment," Cr Stockwell said.
"I think once again if we honour democracy and we honour the voices of the people, then we don't support this amendment.
"If we value social housing and we want to create suburbs for people to live in at the best possible price, we don't support this amendment."
Cr Jurisevic said it was not an easy issue to understand because there were many differing views.
"We know that the impact of short-term letting over this period has diminished the opportunity for long-term rental accommodation for those workers who do work in our region," he said.
"It's something we need to take a considered approach on and we need to monitor the impacts that we've done."
He expressed doubts about the ongoing demand for short-term letting in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Clare Stewart said Noosa's world had changed in a COVID-19 scenario that no one could have expected.
"As a shire reliant on tourism we are hurting more than ever," she said.
"I do not support short-term accommodation deemed inconsistent in low density residential zone.
"It should however be subject to local laws including an associated code of conduct which this motion supports.
"The impact of changing consistent to inconsistent use in low density residential areas on our economy in our shore cannot be underestimated."
She said this had the potential to impact house prices with investors less likely to buy in low density residential areas so there would be less demand in this area as they looked elsewhere.
Cr Stewart said this could result in investing in medium to high density to create a "somewhat distorted market" that impacted on "many of our residents who reside in unit or duplex style accommodation increased cost".
"Tourism may suffer as less stock is available," she said.
"There is significant chance they will choose elsewhere to look for their holidays robbing us of the ever important tourism dollar."
She said these short stays, short-term letting and tourism rentals were a juggernaut bringing "hundreds of millions of dollars per year into our economy, our shire".
"The impact of reducing this stock cannot be in my opinion be underestimated," the Mayor said.
"When people need it most, in my opinion we are providing increased barriers, barriers to affordable housing, barriers jobs and barriers to tourism.
"Most concerning is that no economic impact assessment has been undertaken, we have no data, no facts upon how this change may affect our economy."
She said the state had required a two-year assessment but the community "needed something now".
Cr Stewart said the needs of people living next door to party houses must be listened to.
She said that is why introducing a local law for short-term letting including an associated code of conduct was a "must do".
Cr Wegener said he was speaking with his "surfer's hat on" and that when he and his mates first arrived in Noosa, they were looking for long-term affordable places to stay.
"We were looking at it very different from investors," he said.
"You wouldn't move to Byron Bay as a young entrepreneur and think that you are going to live anywhere near the ocean, you'd be living way, way, way back."