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Council approves freezing all STA licensing; full program review due in January

UPDATE SEPT. 1: Following extensive discussion about attempts to only pause whole home short-term accommodations, council approved the motion to “pause” all STA applications as of Sept. 30 – and moved up the full program review to the end of January 2021.

Councillor Kate McNaughton stated she hoped to continue allowing owner-occupied and B&B applications, in agreement with councillor Bill Roberts who was concerned a full pause would penalize residents; and councillor John Hirsch, who expressed concern with people whose projects were under way. Councillor Phil St. Jean also agreed the intent of the motion was to target non-owner occupied whole home STAs.

Todd Davis, acting director of community development and strategic initiatives noted he believed nearly 80 per cent of applications are for whole home, non-occupied STAs.

Chief Administrative Officer Marcia Wallace clarified that singling out one type of application specifically could leave the municipality open to more legal challenges than applying a temporary pause equally across the board.

Council agreed that moving up the completion of the review by two months should allow plenty of time for applications gaining approval for the 2021 season.

Council to discuss freezing all STA licensing in the County

AUG 31: Council will be advised of risks and benefits to stopping all new applications for short-term accommodation (STA) licencing in Prince Edward County. It will also review limiting the number of licences issued annually.

Municipal staff is recommending licencing be stopped as of Sept. 30 at 3 p.m. and that a full program review be completed by March 31, 2021.

At the Aug. 6 Committee of the Whole meeting, council requested staff report on suspending whole home STA licensing due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and a continuing crisis of attainable housing in the County.

Due to wording in the current bylaw that does not separate whole homes from other types of accommodations, staff is recommending a freeze on all new applications – “dwelling or unit, or any portion of it that is rented for a period of less than 30 days”.

Staff also presents the option of amending the existing bylaw to allow for discretion in the number of licences issued each year.

“Given that this issue deals with short-term accommodations and its effect on attainable affordable housing, some municipalities have tried to tackle this problem from a licensing perspective with less than favourable results,” stated Todd Davis, Acting Director of Community Development in his report. “This is because a
municipality has the authority to consider various factors in the issuance of licences,
but a municipality cannot use their licensing power to prohibit certain types of
businesses completely. Knowing this, when the City of Toronto decided to tackle its
availability of affordable housing, it took a different approach and looked at the
problem from a planning perspective. This could be a council consideration in the
future.”

A time-stamped list of applications is also recommended to avoid a repeat flood of new applications that occurred when the licensing program launched in late 2019.

When it launched in late 2019, a flood of applications coupled with recruiting the new human resources to administer the program “created an insurmountable volume of work before inspections could start in earnest,” said Davis, in his report.

The program, he noted, required 800 licences, or $350,000 in fees to remain cost-neutral, adding a moratorium on new applications will not harm the financial model of the program and has the potential to provide staff time to get in front of inspections.

“Having potential new B and B and owner operated STAs wait out winter 2021 before even being contemplated seems reasonable considering current program uptake,” his report states. “Both grandfathered and new STA applicants have provided staff
and council frustration and feedback on how long it takes to become fully licenced
due to application volume. We currently have some operators waiting nine or more
months for their licence and in some cases bookings.”

“Further external factors early in the program such as the COVID-19 crisis have had significant impacts on administration. Immediate and unanticipated enforcement
responsibilities, with limited opportunity for inspections have perpetuated system of
applicants waiting in queue without a license.”

Statistics provided as of this month:
• 769 applications have been received to date for the entire program
• 281 inspections have been completed of the received applications to date
• 32 licences granted to new not grandfathered STAs
• 109 STA applications from new not grandfathered STAs have been received
in the entire program number.
• 488 inspections remain to be completed
• $287,025.00 has been paid to date in licensing fees
• There are 114 pending unpaid invoices from the 769 applications.

He notes it is anticipated that all inspections will be completed by the end of December 2020.

Properties that qualify under the established grandfathering provisions could continue to apply and be processed until the sunset date for grandfathering. Any new STA not grandfathered applications received prior to the freeze would continue through the licensing process.

Davis notes staff anticipates a final push of grandfathered STAs seeking licences prior to the end of 2020 as any grandfathering provisions would sunset.

Davis said program seems to be achieving its primary goal of halting STAs in areas with already high density – most notable being Picton, Bloomfield, Wellington, Sheba’s Island and County Road 12 near West Lake.

The most common reasons for application rejections are: does not meet zoning; over density; building does not meet criteria of a dwelling unit and septic tank not large enough for the number of bedrooms.

Davis also reports minor concern with unlicensed operating STAs that currently, once discovered, are given the opportunity to apply for licencing before fines are levied.

“A change in direction closing out
opportunities to comply would increase the likelihood that illegal operators are
punished without any recourse to make good,” his report notes. “Applications that have been unsuccessful to date have been given the opportunity to correct issues or alter operations to comply with the mandates of program. It could have the potential for illegal operations to take steps to remain secret and increase difficulty in discovering and closing these types of operations.”

A full moratorium, he said, will also introduce uncertainty in market predictability and by extension, the local real estate market.

“Uncertainty has the potential to impact local long term property owners wishing to sell their real estate, or young full time residents interested in purchasing property and entering the STA economy. Considering council’s desire for a full review of the program in early 2021 the uncertainty should be relatively short, and has the potential to provide greater longer term certainty to residents, property owners and STA operators alike.”

Legal concerns include challenges from current and pending STA owners preparing for licencing, who claim short-notice. Legalities under a full moratorium, Davis said, would be mitigated by a bylaw amendment directing staff to pause licensing until a fulsome review of the program is completed.

Council meets Tuesday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. at the Highline Hall in Wellington.

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  1. Emily says:

    Curious scenario. If the Provincialy run Sandbanks Park can legally shutdown when parking and numbers exceed safety, why can’t the same formula be applied to entering the County. What’s the difference other than the impact is on the Municipality rather than the Province?

  2. Marie Powell says:

    Re: attracting young families and rebuilding our neighbourhoods:

    With the current situation of COVID19 and the discovery that many businesses can be operated remotely, we should appeal to those who work from home and want the benefits of a rural community. Lots of young families would love to get out of the city and have a safe place to raise their kids. Now that working from home or from a distance is far more common, we might be an attractive option for them.

    We could also be a creative haven for those who offer products such as online educational courses, e-books, web design and social media promotion. Bloggers, YouTubers/vloggers and app developers also fall into that category. And let’s not forget the artists and craftspeople who sell online. Many are stay-at-home parents as well.

    Perhaps having a larger group of residents who don’t fly away every winter would benefit the local brick and mortar businesses who currently close in the off season. That would be an additional bonus, to the vendors and their employees, and to those who want to shop locally all year round.

  3. Dennis Fox says:

    How do we save our neighbourhoods and how do we as a community attract more families? Limiting the number of STAs is only the start – now we need to find ways to attract companies and businesses here to improve the opportunities for good full time jobs – or to form a solid home business base that does not create the same non-neighbourhood feeling as the STAs do.

  4. ADJ says:

    Non-resident owners should be required to HIRE A MANAGER who will be responsible for the STA in their absence. As I mentioned before, one or more infractions and you lose your license/permit to operate. There has to be better control of individuals who think it’s party central all weekend.

  5. Dave says:

    Regarding STAs owned By county residents or county people who had to go to the city for jobs but are planning to come back. So who are you hurting by blocking them? You are hurting your own people who need the income. The county residents that own STAs have worked hard to earn the money to buy a secondary investment property. Cut off your nose to spite the face?

  6. gilles says:

    Todd Davis’ statement says it all: up to 80% of STA applications were for whole-home owner-unoccupied houses.

  7. Marie Powell says:

    Angela, I totally agree with you. I did not mean to convey that County people were not caring. In my opinion, they do care, quite a lot. My concern is that there are no longer neighborhoods in the true sense of the word, and by having so many STAs with temporary visitors who are not emotionally invested in the way that local residents are, things like the incident I mentioned will continue to occur. What you have described is also my experience of County folks, and I don’t want that to disappear because of an overabundance of STAs.

  8. angela says:

    Locals do not have council’s ear. Instead council is listening to the STA operators and others involved in the tourist industry. They cannot grasp the simple concept that if more and more visitors are enticed here and more and more neighbourhood homes are utilized as vacation rentals the character of the county will be irrevocably changed. The county will fall into the category of “nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live here.”Mesmerized by the growing popularity of the county as a destination council seems incapable of seeing what is happening to a once beautiful place now overrun with tourists. Local lives matter.

  9. ADJ says:

    If bylaws are being broken by these STA-s charges need to be laid and reported. More than once a stiff fine and after that they lose their license permanently. Why is this County so hush-hush about reporting law breakers?

  10. SS says:

    A link to some info that builds on what Argyle posted:

    https://www.collingwoodbluemountainrealestate.com/blog/rental-bylaws-by-municipality-collingwood-the-blue-mountains-wasaga-beach-clearview-meaford/

    Seems like clearly defined criteria. Whether it is popular or not would be a separate issue. But clarity seems like a good start.

  11. Argyle says:

    Time for council to do what Collingwood did and ban ALL STA ‘s in residential neighbourhoods.Its time council supported full time residents of the County, not the real estate speculators and air bob owners looking to make a fast buck by allowing this trend to continue…….

  12. angela says:

    Marie, I share many of your concerns but the incident you witnessed with the elderly woman who fell does not typify the attitude of most county people. This summer my friend and I were shopping for a bird bath and bought one at Canadian Tire. It was fairly heavy and as my elderly friend attempted to lift it into the back of my truck he fell. Immediately a young couple who were just getting out of their car hurried over and offered to help. My friend told them he was not hurt but needed to lie there for a few minutes before trying to get up. They said they understood but would wait to be certain he was okay. After he got to his feet they loaded the bird bath for him. There are thoughtless and uncaring people in the county but most who call it home are considerate of seniors and quick to help if the need arises.

  13. SS says:

    As a previous poster mentioned, let’s have a publicly available list of licensed STAs in the County. Linked off the County web site.

  14. Mike Rodgers says:

    Can someone tell me if this true. Prior to by-laws for STAs it was like the wild west. You could start a STA with very few regulations. Now some regulations have put in place to control the situation. One of the regulations is to control density per neighborhood. It has been determined how many STAs are allowed per street etc. If say street XYZ is allowed 3 STAs but prior to STA regulations coming into effect there were 5 STAs then two of the STAs are grand fathered in to compliance. That is fine but what makes no sense is that if one of the 5 STA owners were to sell the property they are allowed to sell it as a STA. This is insane, if the area is over the allotted number of STAs and one is sold then the STA licensing needs to disappear. Does this make sense?

  15. Dennis Fox says:

    I believe limiting the number of rental places is likely a good idea, For me, what is more important is to see our Council address the real need of building back neighbourhoods, which goes hand in hand with attracting better jobs than just the part time seasonal ones that tend to be associated with the tourist trade. There are too many people in this community trying to make a go of it by holding down 2 or 3 part time jobs – which really isn’t sustainable – and in turn making our community unsustainable.

  16. Marie Powell says:

    Michelle, I asked about that in my letter to Council. I have not yet had a reply.

    One of the most devastating consequences of our widespread STA situation, in my opinion, is the loss of our sense of community. This was never more clear than during an encounter I had with an injured senior citizen on Main Street in Picton.

    This occurred pre-COVID, around this time last summer. My husband and I were walking down the sidewalk, making our way through one of those extended patios on the way to our car. The patio was packed with people. Not a table or chair to be had. We were about 20 feet past this place when we heard a crash behind us. We turned to see an elderly woman lying on the sidewalk at the edge of the patio, with her walker on the ground beside her. As we rushed back to assist her, I couldn’t help but notice that not one person on that patio moved a muscle towards her. Not one face was lifted in her direction. There’s no way those people didn’t hear her fall, as the metal walker hit the concrete. She was right next to their tables, and no one seemed to care.

    My husband was angry that evening. I was in a state of grief. I said, “This is not the Picton I know. Something is horribly wrong here.”

    That ‘something’ is the loss of our character as a community. People no longer know their neighbours. How could they, when those neighbours are different every week? They are visitors, here on vacation. They don’t care about you, or the fact that you get up early for work. They are here to party, and they’ll go all night long if they want to. They don’t care if they block your driveway, and they don’t care if you fall down in front of them on the sidewalk. They have no emotional investment in Prince Edward County or the people who live here.

    It’s time to put our residents first. Council needs to set the tone by showing their sense of community and getting a grip on STAs and the property owners that operate them. I totally agree with the suggestion that operators should be on site to manage their business. Perhaps that would alleviate some of the problems with tenants, and lessen the burden on local law enforcement who, on many occasions, don’t have the resources to deal with these issues.

  17. Mark says:

    I totally agree with Dave. The desire for County homes and price surge virtually eliminates affordable or attainable housing. PEC is not a location for affordable housing development unless Feds/Provincial/Municipal desired to develop such.

  18. Teena says:

    I, for one, would like some assurance that the people who own and run these STA’s actually live in the County as their primary (if not sole!) residence. If they don’t, then perhaps they could be banned? If the owner cannot be “on the spot” fairly quickly to address an issue, neighbours who live here have little to no recourse to rectify a situation short of calling the OPP.

  19. Michelle says:

    Does anyone know if there is a public list of STA’s that have been registered so that a neighbour knows it is operating legally?

  20. Dave says:

    ok lets discuss how STAs affect affordable housing.

    Someone buys a house for say $400,000 and then invests $100,000 to $200,000 to revitalize it. Then this house is sold it will not be to anyone needing affordable housing. It will be sold to someone from out of town wanting to retire. Limiting STAs DOES NOT crash the price of housing so that people can buy “affordable housing”

  21. rolf S. says:

    Why not make it mandatory for sta. owners to live in the county. This would surely eliminate out of town speculators.

  22. angela says:

    For council to look at the STA situation now is locking the barn after the horse has been stolen. Council has allowed the destruction of entire neighbourhoods with these vacation rental homes and watched and done nothing as homes that once provided rental accommodations for local families were converted to big money makers for landlords, some of whom live outside the community. How reassuring to learn that council is now going to review the number of licences issued annual. Better late than never.

  23. Marie Powell says:

    In addition to considering the effects of COVID19 and the ongoing attainable housing issue, I hope that Council will also recognize the impact that STAs have on the neighbourhoods in which they operate. I wrote a letter to our Councillor a few weeks ago, posing a number of questions regarding the unwanted and often illegal behaviour of STA tenants, and asked what recourse our local residents might have when they, or their property (real or material) are being abused by such tenants. It seems to be a particularly challenging problem when the owners of STAs are not living in our community, and the STA is not managed or monitored by anyone nearby. Are there penalties in place (or plans for future penalties) for owners whose properties pose these kinds of problems for their neighbours?

    Furthermore, I would like to see some kind of requirement in the licensing process for STA operators to show knowledge of basic operating procedures, re: garbage and recycling, fire safety, noise bylaws, etc.. It was only a couple of weeks ago that we had to speak to an STA owner in our community about burning garbage in his yard, without a hose or any means of extinguishing the fire. He had no knowledge of how to properly and legally dispose of the material he was burning, and seemed surprised that we had concerns about his inability to put out the fire.

    While there are likely some STA owners who are responsible and have concern for the community at large, there are also those whose investment in this area is strictly financial. Neighbourhood residents should not have their quality of life compromised by property owners who care only about the money they’re making. We are relying on Council to consider our well being during this time of discussion of STA licensing.

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