Majority at meeting don’t want short-term rental regulations
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | September 6, 2018
Several property owners in Highlands East don’t want the municipality to regulate short-term rentals.
Many of them, including cottagers, expressed their opposition to a proposed bylaw at an Aug. 29 public meeting in Wilberforce. Prior to the meeting, the municipality received 41 written submissions. Highlands East Mayor Dave Burton stressed that all input would be considered before a decision is made.
“The purpose of the meeting is to receive everyone’s— and I mean everyone’s—comments and concerns,” said Burton. “I guarantee we will hear each and every one of you.”
In November 2016, several individuals reported concerns about short-terms rentals to various municipal committees, said CAO/treasurer Shannon Hunter. The environment advisory committee told council about them.
Council then created a task group to investigate shortterm accommodations and instructed them to report their findings. The group is comprised of a cottage rental agency owner, an Airbnb owner, a resident affected by short-term rentals, two councillors and Hunter. By researching how other areas are regulating these rentals, they wrote a draft bylaw.
The purpose of a licensing program is to ensure properties are properly zoned, follow noise bylaw restrictions, have parking arrangements and meet septic requirements, among other criteria. It would also limit accommodations to the number of available bedrooms. A demerit system for infractions is being proposed. It would be enforced through provincial court or the Municipal Act, said Hunter.
Property owners would have to a buy a three-year license for $300. The fee would likely come into effect next June. Hunter read through some of the comments that were submitted earlier in the day at an open house.
“There are a lot of comments that have been provided that I don’t think have been considered,” she said.
When the floor was opened for questions, people didn’t hesitate to line up to the podium. A Dysart resident was first up, saying the bylaw will affect neighbouring municipalities and that it seems to unfairly target Airbnb operators.
“You are not including bed and breakfasts, hotels, campgrounds … and part of this is due to noise infractions,” she said, adding that locals make most of the noise in her area by riding ATVs up and down the road, having “pit parties” and blaring music. Paudash Lake cottager Renee Schmidlechner said the bylaw doesn’t seem inclusive. She said she attended to express her concerns and those of 120 ratepayers.
“I feel sad about this bylaw and where it’s come right now,” said Schmidlechner. She presented a petition and survey results. It showed that 93 per cent of 102 respondents are against a regulating bylaw.
“I don’t believe we have a bonafide problem that exists here in Highlands East,” she said.
Ken Bradley, an Esson Lake resident, said he supports the bylaw but believes it could be stronger. “I think you haven’t gone far enough,” said Bradley. “I do not understand how a $300 fee will cover the cost of registration, implementing and enforcing this bylaw.”
“Probably not,” responded Burton. Cottager Ryan Bailey explained how renting out his property has made it affordable. He plans to retire in the area and gift the property to his daughters and grandchildren. “If I can’t rent it, I can’t afford to keep it,” he said.
Rose Elliot, a senior in the area, said the municipality is already overregulated and needs “new blood.” “We need new owners, we need new ideas,” said Elliot, adding she’s never had a problem with renters on her lake “that couldn’t be resolved face to face.”
If passed, Bancroft realtor Cheryl Easton believes buyers will go elsewhere for lakefront property.
“I know they’ll ask me, ‘Are there any lakes that are unregulated?’” said Easton. “Oh yes, there are.” Paudash Lake cottager Charlie Atkinson wondered what problem the bylaw is trying to resolve. “Do we have an enforcement issue?” asked Atkinson. “I don’t know. I didn’t hear anyone come forward with statistics” on complaints, safety violations, etc. The meeting concluded with Burton recommending that all feedback be submitted to the task group. One resident asked if additional members could be appointed to the group to provide input. Burton suggested adding three members to get a “cross-section” of the community.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.