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County to revise short-term accommodation draft regulations

Story and photo by Sharon Harrison
Draft proposed recommendations for short-term accommodations in Prince Edward County were presented before a full house Monday night.

“Based on the questions and comments we received last night, staff will revise the proposed draft regulations before council formally considers them later this month,” said Mayor Robert Quaiff Tuesday.

At the meeting he said council received an email late that afternoon from the Airbnb people members who specific members of council had already met.

“They sent an email out today that is very, very detailed and I don’t imagine staff has had much of a time to look at it and read it,” said Quaiff. “I think this is a huge issue that needs to take its time,” he added. “There is a lot of information here for everyone to digest. I hope that we will be cautious going forward.”

The special Committee of the Whole meeting, called by Quaiff, saw the horseshoe convene at the Wellington and District Community Centre rather than Shire Hall. More than 200 members of the public attended.

Proposed draft recommendations were presented by Greg Bender of WSP Consulting (WSP) and Paul Walsh, Manager of Planning for the municipality. After providing background information on public consultation and research, and presenting the proposed regulations, each council member provided comments or asked questions. The public was also allowed to provide comments and ask questions.

While a full complement of councillors was present, three excused themselves at the start of the meeting due to conflicts of interest, declaring themselves either owners/operators of STAs or closely related to a family member who was. Those councillors who did not participate were North Marysburgh councillor David Harrison, Picton councillor Larry Epstein and Ameliasburgh councillor Dianne O’Brien.

Following extensive public consultation and background research, municipal staff, with guidance from the WSP consultants, developed proposed draft amendments to the Official Plan and zoning bylaws. The amendments introduce a new definition for short-term accommodation and outline where it is permitted.

Municipal staff are also proposing a licensing system where owners and operators would have to satisfy a broad range of operational requirements that address matters such as safety and nuisance issues, insurance and parking.

An additional intent of the licensing system is to decrease, over time, the number of short-term accommodations in oversaturated areas to free up long-term housing.

The difference between owner occupied accommodations (which typically refers to B&Bs) versus non-owner occupied (which typically refers to STAs) was clarified by Bender. He further clarified that owner occupied (B&Bs) would largely be permitted as they stand now with no changes.

Non-owner occupied STAs could be allowed in areas designated such as urban centres, villages, hamlets and shore land and could be permitted in prime agricultural and rural areas as on-farm diversified uses, while prohibitied in other areas. Large non-owner occupied STAs with five or more bedrooms would only be permitted with a site specific zoning bylaw amendment.

The municipality defines short-term accommodation rentals as all or part of a dwelling unit used to provide sleeping accommodation for vacationing members of the public. Most commonly they are marketed through web-based services, such as Airbnb, CanadaStays or VRBO-style organizations.

Bender noted that all would be subject to licensing, including B&Bs, and other owner occupied accommodations. The licence fee is yet to be determined. The presentation outlined a number of licensing requirements, including parking requirements, appropriate services (water/sewer), proof of commercial liability insurance, maximum number/density and posted/published licensing information.

In the draft, all pre-existing STAs will be eligible for a licence, even when maximum densities are exceeded. However, they must meet new bylaw and licence requirements. It was noted by Bender that a licence would be required for each STA property, which would be issued to owners and would not be transferable. Furthermore, it was suggested that fines for infractions (at least $1,000) and revoked licences will reduce STAs that are run improperly.

The zoning bylaw amendment could require STAs to have one parking space per guest room, and a defined amount of amenity space required. Each property would also have appropriate landscaping, screening, road access and servicing.

The proposed licensing bylaw also includes occupancy loads (for example, a maximum of two people per bedroom) and density (for example, only 15 percent of units in an area can be STAs). The proposed licensing bylaw considers STAs as dwellings rented for a period of less than 30 days.

Councillor Gord Fox spoke briefly to the meeting he attended with Airbnb.

“The only thing I got out of that meeting was the carrot they are providing for us is that they are willing to put up four per cent surtax on rentals and that would be the persons renting it would pay that. It wouldn’t be the property owner. I think what they are trying to do is jump ahead of the gun and offer us four per cent which is quite low because really they are looking after their own interests.”

Councillor Steve Graham noted this was not a revenue generator.

“It requires more staff and the licensing fees would cover that staff; it adds more red tape and it doesn’t change the issue of affordable housing for locals. We are licensing for nothing,” he said

Councillor Roy Pennell asked whether each individual house is to be licensed rather than for each individual owner. Walsh confirmed that each structure, each set of units requires a licence. Pennell wanted to know what the County was getting. “We are getting impacts to our roads and to the County as a whole. What is the County actually going to get out of this? Pennell also asked “how do we avoid someone buying 10 houses and is the plan to have a maximum?”

Councillor Jamie Forrester suggested re-addressing noise bylaws and tying-in a noise bylaw for people living near STAs. Walsh added that they are not looking at revising noise bylaws, but it is something he would look at and think about.

“This is a big step forward,” said Councillor Steve Ferguson, “we should congratulate Bender and municipal staff.” Ferguson touched on potable water being a prerequisite to licensing as something “that should be considered very seriously”.

“I think it’s great and I am looking forward to the interaction and the comments we will get,” said Councillor Bill Roberts. “The primary role of houses is to be homes, citing the very long email received Monday afternoon from Airbnb which he said should be taken with a grain of salt.

“It’s important to look at the data; all that data says crisis. We are at a moment of crisis when it comes to affordable and attainable housing,” he said. Roberts added that he was supportive of the report and wanted to see it implemented.

Councillor Janice Maynard asked whether the municipality has a good handle on the number of STA rooms available.

Walsh noted the AirDNA website indicates there are 1,036 accommodation units listed in Prince Edward County, with 83 per cent of those being entire (whole) homes (assuming those statistics are accurate), with 40 of those dwellings having 12 bedrooms and up.

Audience questions were restricted to three minutes each, but of the approximately 20 residents who asked questions and provided comments, many were lengthy, exceeding the time limit with some asking multiple questions.

Public concerns came in the form of garbage and waste management issues, another comment suggested fines to the owner/occupier every time police were called. One person noted that “most communities don’t allow STAs in residential areas.” Another comment commended the grandfathering of existing STAs as appropriate.

Resident Gary Mooney was concerned about a rush of people getting in under the wire.

Ms. Morrison, an owner of one long-term and one short-term property asked, “How will the over 1,000 short-term properties each be visited and licensed and would the municipal staff be enough? How would that be possible?” Morrison added, “We need to look at revenue generating at the same time as licensing.”

Local businessman Alex Fida asked if a couch in a guest room would be considered a STA. Walsh said no, “the definition of a guest room, no money changing hands, does not quality as an STA.”

One gentleman brought attention to a newly formed STAs owners and operators organization. “We are looking forward to working with the County and being part of the solution,” he said.

One long-time resident and builder said, “It disturbs me what impact Airbnb has on Prince Edward County.” He is also noted that there are no workers here to hire. “People pay income tax on income, and pay tax on what they buy, maybe we need a toll on the bridge,” he add to great applause.

One audience member asked, “If there is a noise bylaw, why is noise a problem?” He said he was pro-STA and noted that there is not an affordable housing crisis, just a renter crisis.

Concerns were also made by Krista Tevlin surrounding listings that say sleeps four, six or eight-plus, noting the plus can mean a doubling of occupants. She asked how this can be regulated. Walsh replied saying it was an enforcement issue.

Another questioned the licensing and its implementation noting, “With 1,000 units, every one inspected before licensing, say at five per day, equals 40 weeks.”

Following other comments suggesting taking the time to put regulations in place, to another saying the regulations were “creating bureaucracy” to “we are reinventing the wheel”, Walsh said “We will learn from this and we will learn from you and make revisions.”

Concerns were also made over retirees not wanting to come here because they were wary of dark neighbourhoods. Another suggested making use of technology with surveillance cameras to ensure the number of people staying at STA was as agreed.

Walsh said it was hoped the regulations would be in place before the tourism season starts.

“It was a really good discussion,” said Maynard.

The Special Committee of the Whole meeting was not live-streamed and no recording of the meeting was available, although all comments made are to form part of public record and are to be posted on the municipality’s website.

Comments, feedback and questions can still be submitted in writing to Paul Walsh, the County’s manager of planning at pwalsh@pecounty.on.ca.

Staff will bring forward a report with recommendations for consideration. The issue is scheduled to return to the Committee of the Whole Sept. 27 for further discussion. The public may attend that meeting and speak again if they wish. Possible ratification by council is set for Oct. 9.

Copies of the meeting handouts such as the Official Plan Amendment No. 77, the STA by-law and the licensing by-law documents, as well as the evening’s presentation and other related information, are available at: http://www.thecounty.ca/county-government/municipal-projects/

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  1. Emily says:

    What about the same issues arising from pop up B&B’s Gary?

  2. Dennis Fox says:

    I find it ironic that the STA has become the focus of this election and that of Council. It is just like as if the last 4 years of poor decision-making didn’t exist.

  3. Paul Cole says:

    STA’s do have an effect on rental housing both available and affordable housing of 1036 STA’s in PEC 86% (800) of those homes are whole houses. If left unregulated I think we all agree that number would increase, at this point STA’s are driving the rental housing market, ya all know how supply and demand works right. In the last 5 years or so rent prices have increased dramatically in The County folks are moving to Belleville, Nappanee and Kingston cause rent is cheaper.

  4. Gary Mooney says:

    Short-term rentals, long-term rentals and affordable housing are three separate issues. There is some overlap between STA and the other issues, as some houses of modest market value have been purchased and renovated to be STAs,

    STA regs won’t do much to solve the affordable housing problem, and are not intended for that purpose. They are being developed to deal with problems related to the number and locations of STAs in our residential areas.

    STA regs won’t be applied to long-term rentals. While there are some common concerns — e.g. fire safety — STA regs are a major project on their own.

    Affordable housing is a huge challenge. It emcompasses both ownership and long-term rentals. County government is working with other County organizations — both non-profit and for-profit — to improve the situation. This problem will be solved only gradually, over a period of a decade or more.

  5. Michelle says:

    Exactly. $14.00 an hour can’t cover food and the water bill! A mortgage? Get real.

  6. Susan says:

    This has no impact on affordable housing as none of the STA,s will be affordable housing. A 2 bedroom basic bungalow in Picton will net you $330,000. That tells you all you need to know about affordable housing.

  7. Chuck says:

    Under the County’s definition of an STA, a cottage would be defined as an STA.

  8. Chris says:

    Hot topic. 1 thing is clear they are trying to make a lot of people happy. I don’t know about you but that’s always impossible.

    I have interests on both sides of this debate both in owning sta’s but also in having been from here for 40 years and having staff that can’t afford homes.

    We can talk all day but that doesn’t get us anywhere. At least there is an attempt, as slow or fast or ugly as it may even appear, regardless of all that together we’ll learn.

    Let’s remember it’s not one side against another…it’s all of us against a problem that we have in our community.

    That is what community is about working together towards the best of what we can come up with. Community is not pointing fingers in anger because we disagree, it’s knowing that all opinions are valid and we have to stay united to get somewhere we want.

    We elected this group of people. Now we have to work with the people we elected to get the best to make everyone, in some small way, happy.

  9. Susan says:

    Today is the last day for public comments to Planning Department. Plan is to push this through in October. What is the rush to get this rammed thru with so many unanswered questions. Who’s driving this hurried agenda?

  10. Emily says:

    Understood. It is getting to be a not so nice place to live. Small town peace is gone. It is now a never ending playground and far too many people. Throw in the high taxation and the water cost nightmare, it may be a good time to cash in while the market is high.

  11. Rob says:

    I think that there is quite possibly a different take on Short Term Accommodations by those who are bothered/tormented by one near their home and those who aren’t. I also think that it is always important in cases like this to try hard to understand the perspective of the one who is in that (unfortunate) position.

    I happen to work with a person who is most reasonable in all ways who is ready to move because his crowded Wellington street is full of strangers all summer long, a few seeming of questionable moral character and generally seeming not to care much that this is someone’s neighborhood. Cars parked all over the place, coming and going all hours. In this case I think his concerns need to be taken seriously and our representatives charged to work on assessing and addressing those concerns.

    The bigger question behind all of this is just how beneficial tourism is to this County. Yes, the tourist lobby for not just PEC but the Quinte area have headed off to Lorne Brooker and any other friendly place they could be heard to build this great undeniable truth over the last decade that tourism isn’t just good but great and without it we would be much worse off. They managed to do this with hockey as well over in Belleville with little to no serious opposition, maybe because it’s almost as hard to find credible stats against tourism as it is for?

    But unless you sell wine, ice cream, run a bed and breakfast or tend bar/wait tables just how much of these tourism dollars at this present time reach all County residents? Not sure how this is quantified, if it can at all but the cynic in me thinks that the contribution might not be worth all the hassles we have as a result. Hassles being worn out roads, frustration from residents near the Sandbanks (big article in the Times this week on this) and of course the issue at hand, sort term rentals.

    Yes, of course some (emphasize some) people in the area get more cash in their pockets through increased hours or tips, and they can (potentially) spend this somewhere else in our region. Or they might put it toward the car loan, or go to Toronto to watch a ball game and spend it there.

    Now that the new darling Cannibis is out there to be the next great saviour of the local economy, through big plants (pun intended) and great paying jobs, possibly the movers and shakers who need a racket to prop up will move on and tourism will be allowed to run a natural course, whatever that may be. In the meantime our Council needs to do right by the people who are most affected in the short term rental challenge, with an eye on the impacts on housing supply as well.

  12. Dave says:

    The Chamber did a study in the 80s on how to increase tourism. The conclusion was that tourism was limited by the number of beds available.!!!

  13. Chuck says:

    The County promoted wineries and a tourist destination like none other. They new at the time that the County was vastly under capacity for accommodations. Makes one wonder,how did they expect this gap in service delivery to the tourist industry they were pushing, was going to be filled? Hmmm.

  14. Dave says:

    To promote low cost housing development why not encourage the builders to build cheaper housing?

    A couple ways this could be done:

    1. require new subdivisions to have a certain percentage of units to be lower cost. Lets say 30% of units to be under $300k

    2. give big discounts to builders for building permits for these units.

    Does anyone else have any ideas on this?

  15. Susan says:

    This matter didn’t just suddenly pop onto the scene. Council had 4 years to deal with this if they so desired. To have such a complex issue being pushed by staff to rush through a month before our Municipal election is not wise or appropriate, particularly when at least 40% of Councilors are in conflict of interest.

  16. Dave says:

    The idea that putting some regulations on STAs will put some properties back into the long term rental market is just stupid.

    And how are you going to determine WHICH areas are OK with STAs?

    Many people have invested hundreds of thousands of $$$ into renovating their houses to accommodate guests, myself included.

    Council needs to tread lightly and not kill the golden goose, or risk a mob on their doorstep.

  17. Paul Cole says:

    Obviously STA’s have caused concerns in other municipalities that have had to implement regulations . STA’s do have an effect on available rental housing of 1036 STA units in PEC 83% (800 of the 1036) are whole homes. Is it the solution to the rental housing crises or lack of affordable housing, likely not BUT its a start and with other initiatives County Council has implemented maybe it will work for less fortunate folks who can’t afford to own a home here in The County maybe…..

  18. Gary says:

    This is politically motivated and they have no answers or sense of what is being proposed. Councilors cannot answer, staff cannot answer, but full bore ahead prior to an election. And this will be challenged given the number of undeclared Councillors in conflict.

  19. snowman says:

    So where in all of this mess do we find the answer to affordable housing?
    This will solve “The Housing Crisis”? I think not.
    It will create jobs however…..at Shire Hall.

  20. Chuck says:

    Ridiculous. Not me,the proposed regulations say only 2 in a bedroom. Why attempt to regulate something you can’t? Someone or something is rushing this nonsense through before the election when the Planning Department could not answer 90% of the fallout.

  21. Paul Cole says:

    Why would you ever assume those fee’s wouldn’t cover regulation costs. If The County gets it right license fees should cover initial regulation costs as well as fines for code infractions and the 4% offered by Airbnb should cover ongoing operational costs. As far as Bedroom Police well that’s just ridiculous….

  22. Chuck says:

    Why would you ever assume licensing fees would cover the regulation costs. More staff, more vehicles, inspections, complaint follow up. And we will need bedroom police so there aren’t any threesomes! Lol

  23. Paul Cole says:

    Licensing fee’s should cover any costs associated with regulating the STA’s. My main concern is the interest and helpfulness that Airbnb is showing even offering to collect a 4% surtax for The County on rentals, I’m guessing through Airbnb something seems fishy about that.

  24. Janice says:

    Fred, I agree with you completely. It certainly seems like conflict of interest. This is the most convoluted mess that this council has drummed up yet! Just how much is this going to add to the tax bills to regulate all this! Are we going to have inspectors snooping in bedrooms to make sure only 2 people are sleeping there’s? This is nonsense. One councillor said it shouldnt be a money maker. Why not? The County needs more funds to offset this influx of STA’s. We can’t seem to afford to fix our roads ie 49 but I do notice County Rd. 1 in the northern area of the County is looking great for the Toronto travellers coming in. Imagine the cost to hire all the additional staff that will be needed to oversee these grandiose plans. This is a disaster in the making.

  25. Fred says:

    Should a Council resort owner be determining regulation and fees directed towards their competition?

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