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STA licensing changes deferred; staff to iron out kinks

Proposed changes to the short-term accommodation (STA) licensing program were deferred by council Thursday evening at a special committee of the whole meeting.

The three-hour long hybrid meeting held in-person at the Wellington and District Community Centre (also live-streamed), devoted entirely to the topic of STAs, saw council examine and consider all of the proposed changes to the STA licensing program, as recommended by staff.

The meeting addressed two separate components (bylaw and licensing changes), but in the end, after considerable discussion, council agreed to send the report back to staff for “investigation”, bring back a report, as well as a revised bylaw.

Items noted to be investigated by staff are: higher fines penalties, stronger restrictions on unlicensed operators, reducing the 180-day limit for partial primary residence STA to 45-60 days, allowing primary residences with secondary units to operate year-round, flexibility for commercial properties and removing natural persons restrictions, as well as the removal of secondary residence STAs.

In his report, planner James Griffin outlined staff’s recommendations to restrict the STAs from the Urban Residential Type 3 (R3) zone and remove certain provisions from the zoning bylaw and place them into the new STA bylaw, to include density.

Griffin noted a number of submissions from the public which had raised concerns regarding the proposed changes had been reviewed and considered.

“Staff have revised the proposed changes to the zoning bylaw to make it clear that no removal of legal non-confirming rights is intended with the proposed zoning change,” stated Griffin.

In his report, Griffin cited a short-term accommodation study by Dr. David Wachsmuth et al. which stated the STA industry in Prince Edward County is responsible for a portion of medium-term housing price growth. This resulted in staff recommendations to improve the STA licensing program.

Griffin provided a brief overview of the changes including the removal of STAs in the R3 zone, the number of guest rooms, occupancy, fencing, private roads, servicing, requirements for an amenity area, as well as provisions for waste disposal.

Griffin noted the number one concern noted by the public was loss of a grandfathering status.

“If we moved items to the licensing bylaw, such as density, if they wanted to transfer a licence or sell their property they would lose their grandfathered status as they would have to be subject to density,” explained Griffin.

He also noted concern had been expressed by the public about STAs taking over neighbourhoods.

“That is still a concern and we are still requiring density for new STAs.”

There was also concern expressed from bed and breakfast owners being treated the same as STAs.

“B&Bs have their own definitions; no changes are being proposed to B&Bs,” Griffin confirmed.

Being proposed with the bylaw changes is the removal for permission of STAs to be permitted in the urban residential R3 zone.

“We are proposing to keep density, keep the number of guest rooms and the amenity areas provisions, they will stay and there will be no changes.”

Items to be removed from the zoning bylaw include fencing provision, which will be moved over to licensing bylaw.

“No provisions will be removed from the zoning bylaw and placed within the licensing bylaw that could restrict the issuance of a grandfathered licence based on location of a grandfathered licence,” Griffin confirmed.

He also noted there are no proposed changes to commercial STAs in the zoning bylaw.

The meeting also received a deputation from one member of the public, together with 10 audience comments, including B&B operators and a representative with the Licensed Short-Term Accommodators of Prince Edward County.

Concerns raised from members of public ranged from grandfathering and its definition, why bed and breakfast establishments should not be included in STA licensing, secondary residences, to density, to commercial properties, and penalties among them.

Emily Cowan, director of community services, programs and initiatives provided an outline of changes to the licensing bylaw.

She noted the proposed changes came as a result of feedback from the public and stakeholders and covered a wide array of different reactions and thoughts.

Cowan said a new structure to the STA licensing program is being proposed to make things a little clearer to the public, prospective owners, as well as municipal staff.

“We are proposing a primary residence STA owner can rent out all or part of their residence as an STA,” said Cowan.

She said primary STAs do not have to meet density requirements, but noted when renting an entire primary residence STA, the owner can only do so for no more than 180 days per year.

Residents can apply for a partial STA licence, or an entire STA rental licence.

For secondary residence STAs, it is proposed they are considered a dwelling unit, which is not a primary residence, rented in its entirety to accommodated guests.

“Secondary residence STAs are restricted to one licence only, and they must comply with density requirements,” explained Cowan, who also noted that while secondary residence STA are restricted to one STA licence only, they still could have a primary residence STA licence in the home that they live in, if they comply,

Cowan also confirmed bed and breakfast establishments are unchanged from the current STA licensing bylaw.

Bed and breakfasts are located in a single detached dwelling where the operator occupies the dwelling and provides no more than four guest rooms, and offers daily meals to accommodated guests.
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Cowan said the wording surrounding legal non-confirming status, known as grandfathering, has been made clearer in the bylaw.

“Within the STA bylaw, we are proposing to include that new owners of properties with legal non-conforming status as an STA may apply for a licence to continue that use if they meet all other eligibility provisions and meet the requirements regarding proof of showing they are purchasing what was an active STA, and that they continue to establish that they have a legal non-conforming use.”

The administrative penalties bylaw proposed changes including adding fines to an STA operating without a licence to include a first offence ($1,000), second offence ($2,000), and a third offence ($4,000).

Proposed fines for those advertising an STA without a licence number would be $100 (first offence), $200 (second offence) and $400 (third offence).

Fines proposed for anyone operating a STA without a licence will increase to $2,000 (first offence), $4,000 (second offence) and $8,000 (third offence).

Fees for a primary residence STA partial rental (where the owner remains on site) will be the same as an owner occupied STA is currently.

Fees for a secondary residence STA will be set the same as a whole-home STA is currently. Fees for a primary residence STA or an entire home rental up to 180 days is $275 per guest room in an inspection year, and $140 per guest room in a non-renewal year.

Arryn McNicol, director of corporate and legislative services, gave a short presentation on enforcement and legislative aspects of the STA licensing bylaw.

McNicol provided some interesting figures, noting currently there are 224 applications in the STA application process, plus eight with overdue payments in the collection process, for a total of 232.

There are 66 applications waiting for more information, five awaiting zoning approval, and 12 waiting for building and fire approval.

Thirty-six invoices have been sent to accounts payable to be created, 18 invoices are waiting for payment, 39 inspections, and 48 incomplete inspections.

There have been 73 inspections conducted in last 30 days; the number of whole-home pending moratorium (applications received during the moratorium) is 72, and the number of licences waiting after complete inspection is zero.

McNichol spoke to the complaint process where he noted three unlicensed STAs were fined prior to 2022.

“So far this year, we’re at 14, so we have increased the amount significantly and we are only half way through the year,” said McNichol. “If we continue on, we will be at about 30-35 fines, so a 10-fold increase over previous years, so we are moving in the right direction.“

Councillor Janice Maynard requested density issues calculations be explored by staff, where a motion put forward by Maynard to investigate the use of reduced densities for STAs carried.

“The last thing I want to do is not get this right this time,” expressed Maynard. “If it takes a little extra time to do it, that’s what we need to do.”

A special committee of the whole meeting is to be called for the end of July or early August to bring this item back to council`s attention for final review and approval, with ratification expected at the Aug. 16 council meeting.

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