County Council approves new STA Bylaw

(Gazette file photo)

 

SARAH WILLIAMS

STAFF WRITER

 

The proliferation of Short Term Accommodations (STAs), have been a hot-topic in Prince Edward County since long before the snow melted.

Of the many STA platforms used through the County, such as Home Away and VRBO, Airbnbs have grown exponentially.

Responding to growing concerns regarding STAs, council recently ratified a new STA Bylaw at the June 25th council meeting.

County residents have reason to be concerned about the growing number of STAs that are, seemingly, popping up at every corner.

According to a recent study by McGill University, published by the Globe and Mail, Airbnbs have taken 31,000 homes from the national rental market in the past year.

In fact, the study noted that in all of Canada, only Whistler, B.C. and Blue Mountains, Ont., had a higher number of active Airbnb listings than Prince Edward County.

In a municipality that grapples with affordable housing this has been cause for some hand-wringing and most recently, at least part of the reason behind the new STA by-law.

Brad Nieman. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

Citing other Canadian municipalities that have done so, Councillor Brad Nieman questioned the possibility of council implementing a spectator tax as a disincentive to whole home STAs.

In response to this question, Neil Carbone, Director of Community Development, replied that the County does not have the authority to levy that type of tax, but they do have the authority to levy an accommodation tax, which will be coming in the future.

“The accommodation tax will not prevent people from buying houses for the sole purpose of converting them to STAs, so how do we prevent that?” inquired Nieman.

With this in mind, Councillor MacNaughton  suggested offering  a discount to residents, however, staff replied that they do not believe the tools are currently in place to offer such an incentive.

According to a 2018 Vital Signs Report presented by The County Foundation, housing prices have nearly doubled in the past decade-more than seven times the increase in median household income.

According to the same Vital Signs Report, the median house price in 2018 was $395,000, having increased by over $150,000 in the last decade.

Interestingly, the median house price in Belleville and Quinte West was around $100,000 less than that in the County.

This data, when cross-sectioned with the recent report coming out of McGill University, paints a picture of a rapidly changing community, one that councillor Mike Harper has recently been noted as saying on CBC’s Ontario Today, as becoming, “The haves versus the have not.”

And, with the County garnering attention from such magazines as Vogue, Chatelaine and the New York Times – all for it’s beautiful beaches, wineries and laid back lifestyle-it’s also not surprising that the County’s prized way of life has seen a shift in recent years.

But the public eye is fickle and to some degree, is now focusing on the housing poor here in the County, with articles and statistics popping up in The Globe and Mail as well as The Toronto Star.

Among many concerned citizens in the County is Susan Wallis, who made a fiery deputation at last week’s regular council meeting.

Being co-owner of a traditional Bed &Breakfast, as opposed to an Airbnb, Wallis presented a unique perspective to council but asserted she was making a speech intending to strike beyond the restrictions the new by-laws will place on her home-run business.

“I was here earlier this month talking about the position of B&Bs, but I think it goes beyond that,” said Wallis.

“Sure, B&Bs have experienced the worst spring ever, but Airbnbs haven’t-rest assured. And, the non-owner occupied, non-resident STAs are doing wonderful. And, if that’s the council’s goal, then you’re on track,” decried Wallis.

“I’m not here to ask for changes, but to go on the record as saying, ‘what you’re doing is wrong and the implications of what you’re doing will be far-reaching.’”

Not mincing words in her deputation, Wallis decried council’s decision to include traditional B&Bs in part of the same by-law that would regulate Airbnbs.

However, Wallis also mentions the way in which non-owner occupied STAs have galvanized the local communities.

Wallis also said she would like to thank Toronto-based real estate websites such as getwhatyouwantinthecounty.ca who are “selling us to the highest bidder.”

“I have nothing against owners who have properties they want to rent a couple times a year to pay for their increasing tax base,” added Wallis.

However, she continued, her problem was with people who do not live in the community, who do not contribute to the community, but who are nonetheless profiting from the County.

When speaking of the new by-law up for consideration, Neil Carbone spoke specifically to Wallis’ deputation.

“We feel through the feedback that we’ve had that there’s also challenges with traditional B&Bs and a degree of standardization was wanted. It wasn’t just council that asked staff to investigate STAs, it was also the Chamber of Commerce who sent a letter to the Community Economic Development Commission saying they wanted us to look into STAs-and that included traditional B&Bs,” he said, adding “And that’s from a Chamber of Commerce where about half are B&B operators.”

Billed as a “made in the County” bylaw that includes licensing and fees along with a whole host of regulations, the new bylaw still allows whole home STAs (ones in which the landlord is itinerant) within certain guidelines and will continue to include B&Bs, albeit in a far less strict fashion.

“We said right from the onset we were not looking at shutting down the whole home accommodation market in the county but that we wanted to control the growth of them so that it was appropriate. There’s three mechanisms in the zoning that will do that,” said Carbonne, adding, “As well, new zoning restrictions may limit the proliferation that may potentially have occurred.”

The new bylaw also requires that the density of STAs both in residential and rural areas be restricted. This is likely to avoid entire neighbourhoods becoming transient with guests popping in and out throughout the year.

Prior to this bylaw, anyone operating an Airbnb in Prince Edward County was doing so illegally. The new licensing and by-law requirements will allow for stricter policing on the part of the County, and ultimately, will allow for guided growth of STAs in the future.

Regardless of who agrees with the new STA bylaw, it is now a reality.

Much the same as unaffordable housing.