Municipality to halt STA applications while staff completes review of program

(Gazette file photo)



The County of Prince Edward is putting a pause on licensing any new short term accommodation units.

A report regarding a potential STA pause written by the Acting Director of the Community Development and Strategic Initiatives Department, Todd Davis, was brought before Prince Edward County Council on September 1. The report and recommendations were passed as a MacNaughton/Hirsch motion.

The STA licensing pause will begin at 3 p.m on September 30, 2020 and the report is the result of a request from council made in August to put a moratorium on new whole home short term accommodation license applications.

In the report, staff effectively recommend that council press “pause” on new STA applications until a review can be completed. The review will be prepared by January 31, 2021.

Staff also recommend instating a bylaw be put in place to amend and replace the existing bylaw regarding operating, regulating and governing STA’s in the County.

Councillor Kate MacNaughton. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

Treat Hull, local real estate broker, spoke against the recommendations put forth by staff. Hull argued that while housing affordability is a growing concern in the County, the cause is not necessarily whole home STAs.

“I think we can all agree the County has a large and growing problem of housing affordability,” began Hull. “Whatever it was in the past, the cause now is not people buying homes to run them as whole home STAs. In fact, the number of whole homes rented as STAs is down this year by 18 per cent.”

Hull argued that many people from urban areas, such as Toronto, are now able to-if not required to-work from home. This means many are looking for a place to call home in the country, and as Hull posited, this could be the reason that the average price of homes has gone up 25 per cent.

Despite Hull’s assertion that whole home STAs are not affecting housing affordability, Davis noted when speaking to Councillor Ernie Margetson, that 80 per cent of the STA licensing applications received thus far have been for whole home STAs.

Hull also argued there is an issue of collateral damage that needs to be considered with regard to pressing pause on STA applications.

“There’s an issue of collateral damage to smaller players, who have bought a home here expecting a second unit will help cover their costs,” said Hull.

Councillor Kate MacNaughton was the first to suggest a referral back to staff, suggesting there might be some way to differentiate between whole home and owner occupied STAs before moving forward with a moratorium on licensing.

“As a council, we’re looking at a way to put a pause on receiving applications for new whole home STAs. Now we’ve received a report that says there’s actually no definition included in the bylaw and it would require significant alterations to go ahead with that,” stated MacNaughton. “I would have concerns we would be preventing the STAs that we don’t want to affect if we approve this and that owner occupied STAs won’t be able to submit their applications.

Mayor Steve Ferguson was in agreement with MacNaughton, citing the moratorium as being controversial.

“I’m uncomfortable with doing things and making changes on the fly. There’s a lot of information here and a lot to understand,” said Ferguson. “There’s a lot that is controversial. In some ways, we’re moving goal posts that might be perceived as being unfair to members of the community. I am in agreement with a referral back to staff.”

In support of the staff recommendations and in disagreement about the need for a referral was Councillor Janice Maynard, who noted council has been trying to tackle the issue of whole home STAs for some time.

“With all due respect to you, Mr. Mayor, I think this is something we’ve long contemplated…and now we have an interim mechanism to slow the bus down, take a pause and get a full review,” Maynard argued. “I don’t know what we’re exactly deferring it back to staff for and I don’t think it’s reasonable.”

In response to queries about a referral, Davis noted streamlining the two types of STAs would not necessarily make for a more transparent or consultative process and would effectively be changing the program before a review was allowed to take place.

“The concern initially was that you (council) didn’t want to meddle too much with the bylaw and the hope was to pause whole home STAs. In actual fact, the definition in the licensing bylaw encompasses all STAs and so we would effectively be changing the program before we actually review the program. It wouldn’t necessarily be entirely transparent or consultative,” Davis explained.

Councillor Jamie Forrester also supported the motion, noting STA owners have had a year to apply to the program.

“We’ve given people almost a full year to sign up,” he said. “Right now, I think we need a ‘time out’ so I’m prepared to support this as is.”

A referral to send the report back to staff and delay a moratorium on STA licensing applications ultimately fell flat, with the motion to impose a moratorium passing in a recorded vote of eight to four.