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Significant interest in County’s short-term accommodation issue

Story and photo by Sharon Harrison
Two public open houses this week were hosted by the municipality to discuss issues, and  recent surveys regarding short-term accommodations within Prince Edward County.

Almost every seat in one half of Wellington’s Highline hall was filled for the first presentation and information session. A similar event followed Wednesday evening at the Prince Edward Community Centre.

Neil Carbone, the municipality’s Director of Community Development, outlined key details of the survey in a slide show. Information boards were also set up in the hall highlighting key points of the survey for residents to pursue both before and after the presentation.

Paul Walsh, the municipality’s Manager of Planning, and Greg Bender of WSP Canada Group, the consulting firm hired by the municipality to conduct the survey, both spoke and answered questions.

Carbone noted that almost 1,500 responses had been received to a community survey outlining options to address short-term accommodations (STAs).

“There are no recommendations or specific proposals for Prince Edward County being recommended tonight, but our consultants are going to take you through what other communities are doing,” he told the crowd.

He said engagement with the community and what residents have said about STAs revealed a sensitive issue, and noted emotions often run high when people are put in a position of conflict.

“There are a lot of legitimate interests in this situation so we want to try to touch on all of those, and there are a lot of perspectives, as well as options,” said Carbone. “There is a whole range of ideas so we would like to arrive at something that really suits the County,” he said.

“Most importantly, tonight is not a debate, it is about providing feedback and asking questions, so that we are all as informed as possible when it comes time to consider some of the recommendations.”

Short-term accommodation rentals are usually defined as all, or part, of a dwelling unit used to provide sleeping accommodation for vacationing members of the public, but may also include persons travelling for business or work purposes. Often these types of accommodation are marketed through web-based services, such as Airbnb, CanadaStays or VRBO-style (vacation rentals by owners) organizations.

One of the survey questions asked, why regulate STAs?

“We were hired to really listen to everyone and to get input to really help the County develop a locally specific solution,” said Bender. “The County is becoming one of Ontario’s most popular tourist destinations. Most visitors don’t want to stay in traditional hotels. They want to stay in something more intimate that represents the County and although it isn’t very large, it is an intimate place.”

While he understands STAs are popular due to ease of use, and little or no regulations, there are challenges as they are often located in residential neighbourhoods rather than commercial zones.

“We have heard that there are different types of STAs; the issues are not all the same across the board,” said Carbone. He noted there are big differences between the single family home that is being used for STAs, a traditional hotel, a B&B that’s owner-occupied or a traditional cottage rental.

“PEC has had STAs for a long time and in different locations, so that’s not new. The issues we are experiencing more recently are because of changes in that dynamic,” said Carbone. “We also know STAs are a significant part of the global economy; they create jobs, they allow visitors to come here and visitors spend, and that income is circulated within the community, so that is a positive aspect of having people come to our community.”

Carbone also acknowledged changes in visitor preferences, noting “they don’t always want traditional accommodations and increasingly, they are looking for more flexibility.”

Flowing from that, are increasing complaints about noise, parking, garbage, property standards and similar issues.

“We also hear about health and safety concerns, fire code, liability insurance and associated issues,” he added.

Of importance, he said, is the idea of dark neighbourhoods – a known issue in Wellington as well as in Picton.

“People are concerned that they no longer know their neighbours, and that during the winter their street is dark,” said Carbone. The impact of that, he said, can have compounding effects – not just in the loss of a sense of community, but that it could also affect some businesses.”

Short-term accommodations are also one of many issues related to the lack of availability and affordability of housing.

“People have that perception that short-term accommodations cause speculative price increases which generally makes housing more unaffordable and also takes homes off the market,” said Carbone.

Concerns about rural versus urban locations were received, as well as the desire to see STAs pay their fair share in terms of property taxes.

“By no means is this comprehensive, these are the high points; we received a lot of feedback,” said Carbone. “I think it’s important to know that we have heard these messages over and over again and we are aware the public has some concerns.”

Walsh said 70 per cent of respondents to the survey indicated their home is a STA rental and that it was a significant part of their income. Carbone said many agreed to a need for some form of regulation, not over regulation.

A second survey was conducted by those active in the tourism sector with 75 responses received from cottage/resort, campground, mobile home park, and STAs.

Bender said part of the exercise of the surveys is to understand all the issues and develop something that is relevant to Prince Edward County.

Survey questions included: where should we allow or not allow STA rentals? What kinds of regulations do we need, if any? What lessons can we learn from others? How are County needs unique? How do we balance the needs of supporting neighbourhoods and supporting the economy? Is there anything we are missing? What could regulations look like?

Among recurring questions is whether or not existing STA operations should be “grandfathered” (made exempt from new regulations). The municipality is looking at options including licensing and inspections.

“We are looking for a standard or a benchmark,” said Bender.

Carbone noted the County is also exploring ways to attract more hotel and motel business but expected they would have little to no impact on STAs.

“There is sufficient demand in the County for a 60 to 100 room branded typical family-friendly hotel or similarly sized type of resort according to an accommodation feasibility study that was conducted by the County a year and a half ago,” he said. “Even if a hotel were to come to the County, it would have little or no impact on STAs and we see a variety of accommodations being made available as there are a variety of preferences.”

The survey also collected data related to bed and breakfast operations. Carbone said any new approach would be consistent across the board and new regulations would likely come with transitional provisions.

There are existing bylaws for bed and breakfast accommodations which limit the number of guest rooms to three, with one parking space per guest room. STAs do not have to register with the municipality and pay a fee to operate.

Any new regulations or licensing, or their timing, are yet to be determined.

“We hope to have some kind of report to council by the end of August, and then we’ll see where we go from there in terms of consultation,” said Bender.

The average Airbnb host in PEC earned more than $10,000 in 2017. Total host earnings in the County was more than $6.3 million. Nearly 40,000 guests have visited the County using Airbnb with the average visit lasting 2.5 days.

Wellington resident Jim Read stated he’d heard STAs are good for the economy but he sees no benefits as a taxpayer.

“I don’t see my property taxes going down, I don’t see my water bills going down, I don’t see any of those infrastructure improvements, so when it’s said it’s good for the economy, I’m not sure whose economy you are referring to because it’s not mine. Whose economy is improving?”

Carbone spoke of direct and indirect impacts – anything from cleaning services, property management services, landscaping services, trades and construction.

“When people locally are earning additional income because of growth in the sector, those people are also spending money in the grocery stores, and that speaks to the indirect and induced impact as money is recirculated through the community.”

“We also know that STAs are presenting some challenges now. There is an increasing demand for people to come to PEC, and we also know that we don’t have additional housing to meet the demand. We are trying to achieve a balance. We know there are challenges and indirect and induced benefits.”

Mike Harper touched on three points: affordability, nuisance issues (like parking, garbage) and dark neighbourhoods.

Beck said more owner-occupied homes would help, but “It’s a very sticky situation because you can’t prevent someone from going on vacation for six months, for example.”

For those who didn’t get the chance to attend the open houses, but wish to provide feedback, comments in writing are being accepted up until August 3 and should be addressed to Paul Walsh, Manager of Planning, The Corporation of the County of Prince Edward, 332 Main Street, Picton, ON, K0K 2T0 or

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  1. Dave A says:

    Many years ago the Chamber did a study on how to increase tourism and the result was that tourism was limited by how many beds there are for people to stay.

    Now you have the beds and everyone complains.

    The real issue is that few developers are building here due to high permit prices. Some local developers have complained about this publicly.

    Bring permit prices in-line with Belleville and Trenton and you will see some housing being developed.

  2. George says:

    Except complaints does anybody here have solutions or at least proposals. As always the most hated person in the room is the entrepreneur, but everybody forgets that he or she are the most growth and wealth producing entity within a community. Whiteout them society will not exist as we know it. So let’s get solutions rather than cry outs.
    What about simple registration and taxation of the business since everything else brought up here falls under other regulations and legislation anyway?

  3. Paul Cole says:

    Mr.Carbone seems to make no mention of the effects STA’s are having on available affordable rental housing within PEC. Landlords are opting to rent short term rather then long term thus diminishing supply of affordable long term rental housing for folks who would like to live and work here. Local businesses are struggling to find people to work in their tourist based businesses but can’t because no one can afford rent here at minimum wage. Regulate them make them jump through the hoops like other legitimate accommodation businesses, maybe even limit the number of STA’s that can located in certain area. It almost seems like Mr Carbone is onside with STA’s and is in fact looking for ways to support growth for them.

  4. Dennis Fox says:

    Unless council is prepared to create a rental permit system and an accommodation tax, where the municipality can benefit financially and adding to our coffers, then what is the point of these meetings, surveys and consultations? Are the landlords prepared to buy a permit to operate, keep accurate records of their guests and be ready to submit the tax money without a lot of bother? If none of this is going to happen, then please save our tax dollars for something we can benefit from. I would also expect that these establishments would require the proper fire safety measures and yearly inspections by both our fire and public health departments – paid for through the permit system.

  5. Gary says:

    The cost of a home in PEC is staggering. Over 300K for a starter 2 bedroom. Taxes and the unsustainable water/wastewater at $200 a month on average, makes the word “affordable” just a joke.

  6. Paul Cole says:

    STA’s need to be regulated and taxed like any other business in the accommodation industry…..

  7. robert sandfield says:

    “I don’t see my property taxes going down, I don’t see my water bills going down, I don’t see any of those infrastructure improvements, so when it’s said it’s good for the economy, I’m not sure whose economy you are referring to because it’s not mine. Whose economy is improving?”

    Renting out your home is sort of like having a job. It takes work to make it happen. Money coming into the county is good thing, the cost to the community is zero or close to zero to bring in this money. The garbage at the house is dealt with by the owner, the increased traffic is a nuisance but doesn’t wear out the road a day faster. Automobile traffic is a small, small factor in road wear compared to trucks and weather related damage. For an individual to say the above quote is simplistic at best. My work/renting my house will not appreciably help my neighbour directly. But it will help me pay my property taxes, water bill, renovate my house, etc. etc. Pour money into the county in any clean way we can. Dofasco is not coming, agriculture other than wineries is on its knees. This is not Western Ontario, cash cropping is extremely limited, dairy farming is under threat and a mere shadow of the glory days. Canning crops have been gone for 35 years. The new reality for us is the service economy and taking advantage of the beauty that has always been here for us to enjoy.

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