MNBP Reporter’s Notebook — No STA Regulation Until at Least 2022; Strategic Plan Unveiled

By John Francis

One of the hottest issues in the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula in recent months has been whether or not to regulate the Short-Term Accommodation sector. The issue was one of two items on the Agenda for the March 22 Special Council Meeting.

Consultant Skelton Brumwell, on whose work the draft recommendations were based, was in attendance. Councillors Megan Myles and James Mielhausen both declared a conflict of interest; Councillor Myles owns a hostel and Councillor Mielhausen owns a campground/cottage resort.

Two versions of the draft bylaw were presented, one with classifications and one without. The version with classifications was the focus of most of the discussion. The proposed system involves three classes of STAs:

• cottages rented occasionally by the week, to groups of 6 people or less and not more than 28 days per year, Proposed registration fee of $1,000 plus $500 per year to renew. (A lower fee was discussed.)

• units (up to two per property) rented to as many as 8 people, for up to 180 days per year, and

• units (up to three per property) rented to as many as 12 people, an unlimited number of days per year. Proposed registration fee of $3,000 plus $1,500 per year to renew.

Referring to the larger units, Councillor Smokey Golden said that the municipality should grandfather existing properties but new builds must have a commercial zone. She commented it would be difficult to maintain the integrity of three different classes.

Deputy Mayor Debbie Myles pointed out that a recent ad from a Toronto realtor for an MNBP property described it as a 3-bedroom with parking for 20 vehicles. “When did parking for 20 vehicles become a selling feature?”

The consultant noted that there has been a gradual evolution from renting your cottage for a couple of weeks to the current situation in which many properties are essentially commercial enterprises. The financial prospects are good, he continued, because they will generate revenue indefinitely and the property value is unlikely to go down.

“If we’re going to move to a classification system,” Mayor Milt McIver commented, “two classes would be sufficient.” More than that would become an administrative nightmare. As to fees — the larger STAs are commercial businesses and it wouldn’t take them long to recoup a $3,000 registration fee.

Deputy Mayor Myles agreed that for the larger STAs, $3,000 is not too much.

Pushback to the proposal — in the form of a letter from Siskinds law firm — was also included in the Agenda. The letter demanded further consultation and Council seemed inclined to accede.

“So this year is just going to be data gathering?” Councillor Golden asked. It might reassure people that we’re going to get this right, make sure people know they aren’t going to have to make huge changes this year.

CAO Peggy Van Mierlo-West stated that a further consultation phase was not planned but it would “make sure to get the ducks in a row”.

A motion to engage in further public discussion received unanimous consent.

Strategic Plan Discussion

The other item on the Agenda for the March 22 Special Meeting was the unveiling of the MNBP Strategic Plan for 2021-2025. This document summarizes the findings and proposals of an extensive public consultation process last year.

The Report and Workplan are in the Agenda for the March 22 Special Meeting; there is a link to “Agendas and Minutes” on the MNBP home page; select March 22 Special Meeting, then (at the top of the page) “Agenda Package” to see the full report. (The Agenda also includes the full brief on the STA proposals.)

The Strategic Plan is based on four priorities:

• Creating a strong & resilient economy,

• Maintaining a transparent & responsible government,

• Supporting the sustainability of environment and infrastructure

• Building a safe & vibrant community

Fun Fact: MNBP  has 475 km of roads but only 4.9 km of sidewalks (and zero dedicated cycling lanes).

The municipality has already taken some pro-active steps. The Attainable Housing Taskforce (formalized at March 22 Meeting) and the Tourism Advisory Group are positive steps towards “keeping investment and wealth in the community”: making an economy that works for residents and would-be residents. Also front-of-mind: “Develop partnerships for broadband expansion”.

Improvements to roads are also front-of-mind; an upcoming roads needs study will pay particular attention to accommodating pedestrians and cyclists. The idea is to create a “20 minute community” — a place where residents can get all the goods and services they need (food, post office, medical, hardware store etc) within 20 minutes of walking, cycling or (we wish!) public transit.

A few other surprising snippets:

A lot of people wish we had a swimming pool.

MNBP’s most valued elements are “outdoors”, “water” and “community”.

The most important item on the environment vs growth scale is Affordable Housing.

The top Health and Safety Concern was the need for more OPP/Bylaw enforcement. “Participants were also keenly interested in how the municipality could link user fees for activities that cause possible safety issues with increased service. The preferred example was funding additional police from visitor parking revenues.”

There is much more; a thoughtful report based on public opinion.

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MNBP and Tobermory Chamber of Commerce are partnering with Bruce County Tourism and RTO7 to commission several short, cheeky videos to combat online misinformation about the peninsula.

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MNBP and Tobermory Chamber of Commerce have forged a long-term agreement under which the Chamber will provide visitor information services at Tobermory and Ferndale.

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The MNBP Council Minutes in this issue (March 8 Special Meeting) contain an excellent summary of the CAO’s Report concerning parking in the municipality — the challenges and the possible solutions.

Water Levels Dropping 

Water levels in Georgian Bay and Lake Huron are down approximately 60 cm from their peak last summer. Only twice in the last hundred years has the water risen 60 cm from the winter low, so it seems unlikely 2021 will see a return to last year’s record high water levels.