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SDAB denies B&B license after appeal by local landowners

Over a year after it opened, a bed and breakfast had its permit denied by the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board over concerns it was a tourist home, rather than a B&B.
Town of Canmore
Town of Canmore civic centre

CANMORE – The 14-month long saga over a bed and breakfast in the Macdonald Place area appears to have come to an end with the denial of an application after an appeal by neighbours to the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB).

In October 2020, approval was given to Doreen Saunderson and Dale Hildebrand to operate a bed and breakfast out of their basement while they resided on the main floor, which opened in January 2021.

“We bought this property and were designing our home and realized with our walk-out basement, we had much more usable space than the two of us needed,” Saunderson said. “So, it was an opportunity to create a bed and breakfast that we thought would be desirable and a fun business.”

During and after construction, several neighbours began to question if it qualified as a bed and breakfast, or if it was more in line as a tourist home.

“It was approved as a bed and breakfast. Because of the way it was designed, we were thinking this is not going to be a bed and breakfast. It is going to be two rental suites,” said Carmen Colborne, a homeowner in the area and former vice-chair of the SDAB. “Right away to us, it seemed obvious this was not a bed and breakfast.”

After the appeal was filed, nearby landowner Brian Cooke agreed that it was not a bed and breakfast.

“The spirit of it is not a B&B. It is an Airbnb. It is advertised as such on the Airbnb website,” he said. “If it looks like an Airbnb, it’s on Airbnb, it smells like an Airbnb, and I use Airbnb and I don’t see any distinction at all.”

Saunderson stated that she used Airbnb as a booking system and registration form, something other bed and breakfasts do.

“Airbnb is a booking and registration platform that is used by a broad variety of accommodation services from hotels to traditional bed and breakfasts to short-term rental tourist homes,” she said. “I think it is unfortunate that people have a misunderstanding about that.”

The initial approval for the bed and breakfast was for one year, which then needed to be renewed for a three-year term. With the renewal coming, local homeowners submitted their complaint. On Jan. 14, 2022, the renewal was approved by the development officer.

“They said there is nothing that says this is not a bed and breakfast, therefore we must approve it,” Colborne said. “We submitted an objection and an appeal and then it was heard.”

On Feb. 3, an appeal was filed, leading to the SDAB hearing on March 3, 2022.

One of the concerns brought forward by some homeowners was the unsupervised nature of a tourist home.

“A bed and breakfast is in and out but they are guests of the host, they are greeted by the host, they learn about the community and the neighbourhood,” Colborne said. “It is not the same feeling as someone who comes and goes with no supervision. It is the unsupervised nature of people in and out of your community.”

Another concern expressed was the possible increase in traffic creating a disruption in the neighbourhood.

“We are just a small cul-de-sac. It is hard for every car to go in and out of there to not have an impact on the people who are there,” Colborne said. “A bed and breakfast would be disruptive but at least you have the sense of safety that they are supervised. The hosts are home. If you are not home, you shut down your bed and breakfast.”

According to Saunderson, there have been no noise complaints or disturbances that have been brought to their attention.

“We had never received a complaint directly from any neighbours or being advised by the town that they had received complaints about noise or any other disturbances,” Saunderson said.

Saunderson added she communicated with neighbours through e-mail on two occasions asking them to let her know if they were being negatively impacted so she could address the concerns. She said she received no responses.

Following the appeal hearing, the permit was denied by the SDAB, who stated in their ruling that while bed and breakfasts are a permissible discretionary use, the development was not a bed and breakfast as the suites were akin to tourist homes rather than guest rooms.

The labelling of tourist home is something Saunderson disagreed with.

“Ours is not a tourist home because it was contained within, and an accessory to our personal residence, that we occupy on a full-time basis,” she said. “It was supervised by us. It did not contain full kitchen facilities.”

Colborne and the other homeowners who spoke against the development were pleased with the ruling.

“This is so thorough in its analysis but so simple. Just a simple clear decision that was taken. I don’t think this can be appealed,” Colborne said. “We were thrilled. They went back to fundamentals and looked at the fundamental definition and said, no this does not comply. It was really well done.”

While Saunderson was disappointed in the ruling, she worries it will set a precedent for other beds and breakfasts.

“It has caused significant concerns for other bed and breakfast operators. Almost all of whom book their facilities through Airbnb as a booking platform,” Saunderson said. “I know some others are concerned about the implications of this decision creating uncertainty at best and a threat to their existing business, just as it turned out to be a threat to mine.”