Publisher’s Column: Moore Street, Lion’s Head Provincial Nature Reserve, STAs – You Can’t Please Everyone

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By John Francis

There has been a lot of buzz and controversy around Moore Street in Lion’s Head, which serves as the main access to Lion’s Head Provincial Park/Provincial Nature Reserve. Much of the controversy concerned overcrowding on Moore Street, where a combination of parked cars and heavy traffic were making it dangerous for pedestrians and inaccessible to emergency vehicles. Last summer saw the heaviest traffic ever and the municipality, after years of complaints and lobbying from residents, abruptly banned parking on Moore Street.

In recent weeks I have read two very carefully reasoned opinions about Moore Street and Lion’s Head Provincial Park.

One letter took exception to my characterization of the parking ban on Moore Street as a “resounding success” (Reporter’s Notebook, last issue). The writer talked about the distress of people who have driven for hours to see Lion’s Head Provincial Park. Their GPS is set on Moore Street and they arrive expecting to be able to park and walk to the Lion’s Head Lookout. They are variously confused, sad, angry or bewildered — frequently all of the above — at finding it signed No Parking or at being turned away by security personnel or local volunteers.

The writer pointed out that Ontario taxpayers are being prevented from visiting a Provincial Park — a park which is owned and managed out of their tax revenues.

The writer was particularly incensed that the municipality changed the rules in the middle of the game — banning parking on Moore Street in mid-season, when people had already done their research and made their plans. Forcing people — many of whom had small children or physical limitations — to walk an extra kilometre or two each way was “a low point in the history of Moore Street”. What ever happened to our tradition of being a kind and welcoming community? 

Another writer took a very different perspective on the issue. They are “concerned about the degradation of the Lion’s Head Provincial Nature Reserve”. They point out that it is a Provincial Park in name only, that it is intended and designated as a Nature Reserve, the ministry’s second most restrictive classification. The Ontario Provincial Parks website says:

The objectives of nature reserve class parks are to protect representative ecosystems and provincially significant elements of Ontario’s natural heritage, including distinctive natural habitats and landforms, for their intrinsic value, to support scientific research and to maintain biodiversity.”

The writer laments that the heavy traffic through the park in general and to the Lookout in particular are compromising the preservation of the reserve. They suggest that the phrase “Provincial Park” has a recreational connotation which is inappropriate and not consistent with MNR’s conservation priorities for the property. They hope “that nature can be protected, and allowed to heal from the damage that has been inflicted on it, in the Lion’s Head Provincial Nature Reserve.”

I offer these as somewhat contradictory but completely valid perspectives on Lion’s Head, Moore Street and the Provincial Nature Reserve. Our municipality has to steer a course through this mine field of opinion, trying to find the majority opinion on an issue where complete consensus is impossible and options are constrained.

Which brings me to Short Term Accommodations — STAs — a classic example of an issue where consensus is impossible and options are constrained.

Our municipal councillors (and this reporter) hear a lot of complaints from neighbours of STAs. Mostly they are not complaints about illegal activity — they are complaints about how perfectly legal activity is spoiling the quiet enjoyment of their properties.

If a large cottage is rented to a group of 20 people, that may not contravene the existing bylaw. There’s nothing to stop a family from having 18 kids — which would put 20 people under one roof — so there is nothing that explicitly forbids 20 people living in one house. That suits STA owners just fine.

There is nothing to stop an MNBP resident from having a large bunch of friends and relatives over for a special occasion, with parked cars lining the roadside for 200 metres in both directions. Which means there is nothing stopping STA tenants from having huge parties, as long as they don’t violate the noise bylaws or the parking bylaws. Even with new tenants every day and a new party every night, it’s not technically illegal. That suits STA owners too.

If you walk over to your nextdoor neighbour’s backyard and point out that their bonfire is threatening to melt your fascia and could they please quiet down, it’s 11:00 at night, well… if they damp down the fire and quiet down the party, nothing illegal has happened. With any luck they’ll take the point and you’ll never have to ask again. But if it’s an STA, with new tenants every day and new bonfires every night, do you really want to psych yourself up to a new confrontation every night just at bedtime? 

These instances do not result in complaints being registered with Bylaw Enforcement; they result in complaints being registered with friends, municipal Councillors and newspaper reporters. A lot of complaints. The basic theme of these complaints is that renting the family cottage for the weeks you don’t use it is fine, but huge, purpose-built overnight rentals are not cottages, they’re businesses.

MNBP has proposed regulations which would tread very lightly on weekly rental of family cottages but would impose restrictions and regulations on higher capacity operations and those rented for less than 6 nights at a time.

The STA industry is complaining loudly (see for example, the letter from a law firm in the Agenda for the Mar 22 Special Council Meeting) that they have not been adequately consulted and their arguments are being ignored.

Amid all the noise, Council and Staff have to figure out what the majority wants.

Stay tuned.