MNBP Council Decides Short-Term Rental Accommodations Are High Priority

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By John Francis

On Tuesday December 18, Northern Bruce Peninsula Council held a Special Meeting for the purpose of discussing broad issues, reviewing ongoing and planned initiatives and establishing priorities. The meeting ran all day and was very productive.

Municipal CAO Bill Jones brought Council up to speed on various initiatives that are already underway and others in various stages of planning. Councillors jumped in freely with questions and comments.

By the end of the meeting, Council had established its priorities:

• Find a way to regulate Short-Term Accommodation rentals (STAs).

• Develop a Sustainable Tourism Policy.

• Defer work on a Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw until after the new Bruce County Plan comes out in 2019 or 2020.

• Reconsider expanding Tobermory’s municipal water system to service the downtown area.

• Consider ways of measuring the numbers of people in various areas and their impact on the environment.

Short-Term Rentals

The first item was Short-Term Accommodations. Up to now there has been no regulation of any kind, thus there is also no documentation. CAO Jones explained that the first step would be to identify and register all the STAs in the municipality. Generating a database of STAs would not be an easy process — it would involve internet searches primarily but there are a variety of ways to list a property and all of them — RentCottage, AirB’n’B and many more — would need to be checked, over and over, manually. Tracking down the last few “Mom and Pop” operations might take months or years. Some properties are only rented occasionally.

The STA database could be compiled by municipal staff or it could be contracted out to a company that specializes in such databases.

With STAs registered and licenced, the municipality would have some leverage to use on the owners. If tenants are causing problems (noise, parking, illegal fires), the owner would be notified. The owner would have a fixed time limit to solve the problem (say half an hour) or else a ticket/charge would be issued. The first ticket or charge would trigger a fine; the second instance would trigger a larger fine. A third offence could be cause to revoke the property’s STA licence.

CAO Jones noted that Collingwood/Blue Mountains have tried to manage STAs using zones. It has worked well there but it would be much more challenging in MNBP. We would need probably need a rules-based system.

CAO Jones stressed that MNBP should be making the public aware that we are going to do something about STAs to give the public a chance to adjust. Any regulations proposed wouldn’t come into effect until 2020. If Council decides to proceed down this path, he proposed a timetable that would begin with drafting rules and regulations this winter and spring. That proposal would be taken to a series of public meetings in the spring and summer of 2019. Staff (or contractors) would be hired in the fall of 2019 to generate a database in time for the 2020 rental season.

Councillor Smokey Golden agreed that it would make a difference if people knew that regulation was coming. She commented that she liked the idea of compiling the list in-house rather than hiring a contractor from off the peninsula.

Councillor Megan Myles pointed out that the transient population is hard to monitor. She would like to incentivize developers to concentrate in some areas — tourism here and not there. 

CAO Jones stated that this would be difficult to retro-fit to existing uses, given that 95% of all cottage rentals are in residential zones.

Councillor Myles suggested using designated areas and approved zones. 

Councillor Jamie Mielhausen agreed with CAO Jones — this would be really hard to do.

Municipal Clerk Mary Lynn Standen wondered if it would be possible to prohibit STAs in R1 Zones. 

CAO Jones warned that it doesn’t matter what you do — some will be happy some not. If you prohibit STAs in R1 zones there will be pushback and claims of unfairness. It is critical that MNBP designs a system so that the inspection, enforcement and registration costs will be borne by renters.

Mayor Milt McIver asked about options — what might a licencing and regulation system look like?

“We do it ourselves,” CAO Jones began. If we’re going to start a process it will probably be based on licensing. Inspections are implied. Most properties will have septic system to inspect. You would probably want a health unit inspection — is the kitchen safe? We don’t have to go that far but we could.

Mayor McIver wondered how staff would generate a database of STAs.

CAO Jones replied that Council would simply task Bylaw Enforcement Officer Carol Hopkins with the job. She could plug away at it in the winter. It’s not rocket science — you simply go online and google. Cross reference the results and keep checking — some go on line at different times; some are already booked for the whole year. The number of STAs in the municipality is probably somewhere between 200 and 400.

Councillor Myles noted that Bruce County is trying to compile a list of accommodations.

CAO Jones stated that MNBP might be the first in Bruce County to do this. South Bruce Peninsula tried but is not going forward.

Councillor Golden suggested we get the inventory done. Would we do it in-house or hire a contractor? 

Councillor Myles asked if companies offer modular services so that MNBP could look at options.

“Absolutely,” replied CAO Jones. They would do an online presentation for council. They deal with large cities and small; 99% of them are in the USA. “An American company?” asked Councillor Golden. Yes, but they have a Canadian affiliate.

Deputy Mayor Debbie Myles asked if STA inspections would include building code compliance?

CAO Jones stated that building officials have codes of conduct concerning things they notice. This needs consideration — the municipality would need to rationalize inspections. Councillor Golden suggested that legal input would be needed to make sure the resulting bylaws are enforceable.

Mayor McIver wondered if a consultant would have the expertise to actually write the bylaw. CAO Jones replied that they would consult and help. He noted that current Bylaw and Building staff do not have the capacity to inspect hundreds of places.

Council decided to move forward with Bylaw Enforcement Officer Carol Hopkins conducting an inventory of STAs this winter. Staff will get pricing on the rest of the process.

Sustainable Tourism

The issue of sustainable tourism was discussed at length, picking up from the discussion at the previous day’s regular Council Meeting. See Publisher’s Column on page 4.

Zoning Bylaw

MNBP’s Zoning Bylaw and Official Plans date to 2002. They are heavily amended and are superceded in many areas by the County Official Plan and various provincial regulations. Attempts were made in 2012-13 and 2015-18 to update the Bylaw and Plans but public resistance stymied the process both times.

CAO Jones began his presentation by noting that Bruce County is in the process of updating the County’s Official Plan, which applies to 95% of MNBP (the Official Plans of Tobermory, Lion’s Head and Ferndale supercede the Zoning Bylaw). One of the things we heard at last public process, he continued, was a suggestion that we wait for the next update of the Bruce County Plan before trying to update our municipal CZB/OP. If Council elected to follow that suggestion, we would not start until the County Plan is complete. This could include appeals and might extend into 2020. Is Council OK with that? CAO Jones noted that with STA regulation and a Sustainable Tourism policy to create, the municipality has a lot on its plate already.

Councillor Golden asked Mayor McIver for his perspective from County Council. Is there a lot happening with the County Official Plan or is it just updated mapping?

Mayor McIver responded that it was too early in process to be sure — there is no public feedback yet. There will be another round of public consultation. “For me it’s going to be interesting; they hope to reduce red tape – I want to see how that unfolds, where it lands.” Mayor McIver agreed with delaying the process — wait and see where the Bruce County plan lands.

Councillor Golden stated that MNBP needs to beat the bush at the beginning to make sure the public understands what is going on. She doesn’t think it will be a problem after that — “We should get good feedback”.

Clerk Standen pointed out that newspaper ads were not effective in reaching all landowners. Council agreed.

CAO Jones said that in the interim, senior levels of government will tell us if things need to be done and we can change piecemeal as necessary. The Ontario Government has said it has priority for coastlines. “We’ll see.”

Councillor Myles asked about improving public engagement.

“I have never seen a community so engaged as this one” replied CAO Jones. “But use simple terms. Give them old school. Give them a microphone.” Open houses are OK too but you need the public meeting.

Councillor Golden agreed — a public meeting allows you to answer a big part of the room’s questions all at once. In the interim we need a list of things we might need to do under housekeeping. We have been without a current bylaw for a long time so there must be some things that really need to be looked at. Let’s get a list of what we should look at. Do we need to go to the public? CAO Jones said staff will work on a list.

Road Projects

Next on the agenda was road projects. CAO Jones explained that the municipality has a (long) backlog list and a few front-burner projects.

On Barrow Bay North Shore Road, the Environmental Assessment is done with a preferred solution, but as Mayor McIver quickly pointed out, “not everybody’s happy with that”. “Exactly,” said CAO Jones. Public Works Manager Troy Cameron is working to find consensus. It would then come back to Council. We would have to involve the environmental engineer, then a public process.

Isthmus Bay Road will probably be construction-ready in 2019. The engineer is going over options with and without a sidewalk/bike path.

Does it then go back out to the people? asked Deputy Mayor Myles. What if not everybody agrees? CAO Jones suggested that Council should select a road design but no decision should be made on the rest. Council should choose a preferred alternative but leave the final decision to the public.

Councillor Myles pointed out that drainage was not addressed at the Public Meeting in August. CAO Jones noted that the Engineers are looking at drainage but haven’t chosen an outlet. There are several municipal properties — water accesses for back lots or water lines etcetera — which are also available for drainage. A choice must be made between a buried culvert and an open ditch.

Deputy Mayor Myles pointed out that road salt going into lake is not a good thing. CAO Jones replied that MNBP is exempt from regulations because of low volumes. Also we mostly use sand with only 3-4% salt unless we have an ice storm. But eventually it does get to the lake and drainage improvements would speed it up. Catchbasins might be involved.

CAO Jones stated that the Dyers Bay Road reconstruction is just being wrapped up. It was handled mostly by our staff except the actual paving. The next section of roadway — from the East Road to Dyers Bay village — should remain a high priority.

Johnson Harbour Road is being reconstructed and paved from end to end, The project is about 75% done and should be finished in 2019.

CAO Jones then showed Council a list of other backlog projects totalling $6.6 million.

Councillor Myles asked if choices were made based on traffic volumes. CAO Jones stated that traffic volumes are looked at. But seasonal vs year round use is also a concern. MNBP uses a classification system — Classes 1-6 — to comply with provincial standards for maintenance.

Sewer and Water

CAO Jones listed the various engineering studies and consultations that have been done about extending Lion’s Head water system to Isthmus Bay Road or Ferndale. There was no public interest in extending Lion’s Head water up Isthmus Bay Road and relatively little about extending it to Ferndale. The days of senior governments covering 50-75% of things are gone.

Engineering studies of water and sewer systems for Tobermory have been done. But costs were high and a well-publicized Public Meeting drew virtually no interest. If we got 50% funding support, some of these would look very attractive — $1,000 or $1,500 a year for ten years looks pretty affordable, where double that is not.

Councillor Golden asked where Tobermory’s water system draws from. (The intake is just off the ferry dock.) Could we service the Community Centre, Fire Hall, Brad Davis seniors apartments etc from there? CAO Jones explained that this would involve upgrading to different regulations because the plant would have to operate year-round. Costs would be high. Councillor Golden pointed out that the Community Centre is really busy and there are other places around the harbour that would benefit from town water.

Mayor McIver noted that one of the options proposed in the  engineering study would offer good service at a relatively affordable price.

Councillor Myles asked if MNBP had considered offering town water to the National Parks office and Visitor Centre. 

CAO Jones explained that we are willing and they are aware of that. I know they are looking at it. We are a willing host. He pointed out that the specified costs would just get water to the property line. It’s not the entire cost. “There’s a lot more rock to break,” commented Mayor McIver. “Exactly,” replied CAO Jones. Councillor Golden made it clear she wanted to revisit the issue. “I understand there wasn’t a lot of interest [when the study was done] but things have changed,” Four people came out to that Public Meeting, CAO Jones remembered.

Switching from water to sewers, Councillor Myles wondered if MNBP should be collecting caffeine data to know how sewage systems are working. CAO Jones explained that the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association has been testing 6 streams for caffeine (using it as a marker for human waste) and working with neighbours. That would be something council could direct.

Measuring the Numbers of People in Various Areas

If we go ahead with STA licensing, Councillor Myles continued, that would inform further decisions about sewer/water? Right now we don’t know how many people are here. CAO Jones conceded that there are no specific data but pointed out that “we know that in July and August, if there’s a house there’s people in it”.

Councillor Myles and Deputy Mayor Myles pursued the issue, suggesting MNBP needs actual numbers of people. Councillor Myles explained why we need this — to know where people are and which properties/areas are over capacity. CAO Jones explained that this would present quite a challenge — it would require someone to work on it — we would probably have to consult it out. It would require door-to-door surveys. Deputy Mayor Myles suggested that property managers could report their numbers. Use the 3 strikes rule to insure accuracy. She pointed out that numbers help in managing septic system limits. CAO Jones cautioned against taking septic system capacities too rigidly — systems get heavy use for a few weeks then have the rest of year to recuperate. Deputy Mayor Myles remained unconvinced. She would like to see some clear relationship between the capacity of a septic system and the number of people staying at a property.

Councillor Myles suggested that we should be collecting caffeine level data at various locations so that we’ll know what the baseline levels are. These will be important data 20 or 30 years down the road. 

Many other issues were discussed: Asset Management, Tobermory Parking, Highway 6 safety, seniors housing, Cabot Head, the Rotary Hall, ATV use on Hwy 6, bridges, the Tobermory Streetscape Plan, Parks & Rec, economic development. Parks Canada Community Committee and “other concerns”. Those discussions will be reported in the next issue of the BPP.