Algonquin Highlands council agreed to go forward with a public survey process to figure out how it will address short-term rentals.

Council held a special meeting Aug. 31 to discuss options for addressing short-term rentals and the community comments received so far. They directed staff to work on a public engagement process and bring back questions that could be posed to the community about how the municipality should proceed.

“We’ve heard what the concerns are, now we need to address the concerns,” Mayor Carol Moffatt said. “I would really like to get quite a fulsome amount of feedback. We’re trying to make a decision that affects the whole community and has passionate positions on both sides.”

Greg Corbett of Bracebridge’s Planscape Inc. provided a report about options council could pursue, including status quo, addressing them in a zoning bylaw, or implementing a licencing system. The report found 216 active listings in the township, the vast majority on Airbnb.

Council also discussed the public submissions received, which they requested be sent anonymously to a specific township email address ahead of the meeting.

Councillors said there were a lot of concerns, with strong opinions for and against municipal action.

Coun. Lisa Barry said some do not want short-term rentals in the community at all, while deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen said others insist the municipality has no place addressing them – and have said so with expletives.

“There are still a certain amount of people that are probably even more adamant that ‘I bought this property and there’s no blank way that you’re going to blankity blank tell me what to do with it,’” Danielsen said.

Corbett’s report also cites the experience of the Town of Blue Mountains, as the first municipality to tackle the matter. They found a program requires significant municipal investment and staff time. Corbett said implementing a licensing system would have a substantial cost and create a minimum of two new full-time positions.

Barry said it is clear people want them to go into some kind of registration system, though Moffatt noted the tax base will have to cover that.

“There might be a whole bunch of people who don’t want to pay to govern the behaviour of others,” she said. “It’s important to hear as much from the public as we can.”

Moffatt also said there are differences between people renting to help afford a cottage they use and those who own a cottage solely to rent it out. Coun. Julia Shortreed said although there may only be around 200 rentals now, rental-only owners will rise.

“This is going to keep growing when people realize the return on their investment is really lucrative,” she said. “The commercial aspect is going to grow.”

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