Reporter’s Notebook — CZB Housekeeping; Bill 108 vs Depleted Aquifers; Unregistered STAs

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By John Francis, Bruce Peninsula Press

“You can dig all the wells you want,” municipal Councillor Smokey Golden told SEPO members, “but there’s only so much water in the aquifer.” Councillor Golden was at a St Edmunds Property Owners meeting on May 28, explaining why there is an urgent need for town water in Tobermory.

New provincial legislation — Bill 108 — reduces impediments to “densification” by permitting second (and in some cases, third) dwelling units on residential lots. At first glance, this should allow a lot of secondary suites and granny flats in MNBP, especially in Tobermory and Lion’s Head where the need for more housing is most acute. If both villages had town water and town sewers, it would be full steam ahead for development. But they don’t.

The “poster child” for this problem is the community centre in Tobermory where the well has been running dry every summer for years. The municipality has been reluctant to invest heavily there, hoping that the provincial and federal governments would pony up to help expand the town water system (which would instantly solve that problem and many others). The senior levels of government have repeatedly — and again this year — declined to help.

But Councillor Golden’s point applies to the whole municipality, not just Tobermory — many aquifers offer limited quantities of water. And the lack of town sewers imposes another set of limitations to “densification”.

In MNBP, an additional “dwelling unit” (this could be a flat within an existing house or a second building) would be permitted subject to servicing and applicable building code requirements and permits. 

In practice, this means a property owner would need to demonstrate that their well provides enough water supply to support two households. They would also have to demonstrate that their existing septic system is adequate to service a second “dwelling unit”. They would then need to deal with any deficiencies — variously by deepening the well, drilling a new well, installing a larger septic tank or installing an entire second septic system if there’s room — as conditions on the building permit for the second unit.

It’s a complex process up here, not just plug and play the way it is in the cities. 

The ramifications of Bill 108 were among the many issues MNBP Council is dealing with in the latest Housekeeping Amendment to the Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw. (The CZB dates back to 2002; it should have been replaced every five years or so but two recent attempts to do so were unsuccessful. As a result, the most urgent updates are being implemented as amendments.)

The Housekeeping Amendment was discussed at length at Council’s May 24 Meeting. Its purpose is to “clarify” the municipality’s position on “Additional Dwelling Units” (ADUs) and other pressing issues including food trucks, boathouses and shipping containers. A 14-page consultant’s report by Cuesta Planning is included in the Meeting’s Agenda, which is available online.

The revised Housekeeping Amendment will come back to Council at the June 13 Meeting. If passed, it will go to a public meeting shortly thereafter.

Under “Other Business”, Councillor Golden stated that she had received “a lot of complaints” about unregistered and non-compliant Short-Term Accommodations (STAs) that are still advertising/renting. There is bad feeling here; “it’s not fair to those who do comply,” she pointed out. “What is our protocol here?” Do we have any recourse through the renting agencies? We hired a company to manage this — what is their actual job and how does the process work?

CAO Peggy Van Mierlo-West replied that we have no recourse through the rental agencies, mainly AirBnB and VRBO. The company we hired collects the 4% Municipal Accommodation Tax, manages the complaints process and does data mining to find as-yet unregistered STAs. “There have been some hiccups with the complaints process.” 

The Press contacted CAO Van Mierlo-West for clarification on this subject. Of the roughly 1,200 properties in MNBP that have operated as STAs in past, only 214 have completed the registration process; another 12 are in the process. This is in line with the experience of other municipalities that are a few years ahead of us in regulating STAs. It should be noted that an unknown number of those former STAs have been either switched to long-term rentals or removed from the market entirely.

As the registration process moves forward, MNBP finds out about as-yet unregistered STAs through data mining of online advertising and also through complaints from neighbours (either through the complaints line monitored by the contractor or through calls to the municipal office during business hours).

STAs that continue to operate without registering are subject to fines of up to $1,000 per week.

If you’re wondering if STAs in your neighbourhood are registered, you can find out at the MNBP website. Load the municipal website northbrucepeninsula.ca then click on the STA licensing link; all registered STAs are shown on a map at the bottom of the page.

Parking at Little Cove

SEPO members asked Mayor Milt McIver if residents have to pay to use the Little Cove parking lot. The Mayor explained that no, they don’t. The municipality is taking over the parking lot at Little Cove this year (because “we were already doing a lot of management there anyway…”). Parking at Little Cove can be reserved through lionsheadparking.ca (other links will doubtless be added as the program is brought to life). Select “Resident” instead of visitor and you will receive your reservation at no charge. This is the same system that is in place at McCurdy Street parking lot in Lion’s Head.