STR bylaw progressing

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County staffers have held preliminary discussions with the four lower-tier townships about the possible implementation of a regional short-term rental (STR) bylaw, and how it will be rolled out.

A policy has been in the works for several years. Highlands East was the first township to discuss regulating the industry in 2018, with Algonquin Highlands also spending time on the file. County staff has been actively working on a document since August 2022. The upper-tier council approved a plan on July 26.

The idea, according to Steve Stone, the County’s director of planning, is to introduce legislation that will help the townships properly, and consistently, police short-term rentals. Owners will be required to apply for a license and adhere to municipal codes of conduct, have their property inspected for Ontario Building Code, fire compliance, and septic system performance.

They will also be subject to more stringent rules regarding the number of guests allowed at a site, while bad behaviour and circumventing of the rules will lead to the issuing of demerit points, fines, and possible suspension of a license.

The issue has been contentious, with STR owners feeling they’re being unfairly targeted. The bylaw is expected to bring tens of thousands of dollars in additional revenue to municipal coffers.

Addressing County council Sept. 13, Stone said he met with representatives from Algonquin Highlands, Dysart et al, Highlands East and Minden Hills last month to iron out some additional details. He noted the bylaw would require STR operators to apply for a license every year, with a $500 application fee discussed. Stone noted that number was not final, and was well below other communities that license STRs. The City of Orillia recently adopted a bylaw that includes a $2,000 application fee.

He said municipal staff had suggested a few changes to the County document, with the most significant centering on the use of bunkies and cabins.

“It was observed by a couple of area planners that [a clause stipulating sleeping cabins could be rented out separately] conflicted with their zoning bylaw, so it was their suggestion not to allow for sleeping cabins to be rented out at all as part of the STR process,” Stone said.

There was also a request that the rental of additional residential dwelling units not be allowed so as to maintain and promote the rental of these units over the long-term, while an amendment outlining that floating accommodations will not be considered for an STR license was also suggested – something warden Liz Danielsen said she was pleased to see.

“I know [floating accommodations] are becoming an increasing concern across the County,” she said.

Coun. Bob Carter said he wanted an appeal fee included in the final bylaw.

“I’m certain if the County is running the appeals court, they’re going to charge us for that service. Somebody has to pay for that, and I think it should be the appellant,” he said. Stone said the County charges people appealing for a permit under the shoreline preservation bylaw a $300 fee to hear the case, noting that could be used as a benchmark for STRs. He also noted there will be fees outlined for things such as fire inspections, which will be conducted by municipal staff.

Coun. Walt McKechnie said he’s been hearing a lot of noise on STRs from people on both sides of the issue. He told council he’s attended several lake association meetings over the summer, and that while there’s a vocal minority speaking out against STR regulations, most people seem to be in favour of it.

Stone said he is now working to present draft bylaws to the four lower-tier townships, and was hoping to start presenting to councils next month.