By John Francis
The STA licencing debate offers several very interesting perspectives on citizenship, community and municipal governance.
The comment thread on letstalknbp.ca had 132 comments from 60 commenters as of February 5. This seems like a lot until you do the arithmetic — that’s a lot less than 1% of the electorate.
The comment thread includes a lot of good ideas, mixed with a healthy dose of misinformation and mistaken assumptions. Perhaps the biggest mistaken assumption is the idea that tourism is the largest source of income in MNBP.
Sorry. It’s not.
The largest source of income in MNBP is pensions. (Thumbnail calculation — 2,000 people at $40,000 each is eighty million dollars year. Add in the retirees who spend half the year at the cottage but have a permanent address further south and that number probably tops a hundred million.)
In addition to all that income, pensioners constitute close to half of MNBP’s year-round population. They are probably the largest single bloc of voters.
“STAs bring a lot of money into the community,” their proponents insist. Thought experiment: 125 nights at $400 is $50,000 for the STA owner. Does that STA owner spend that money in NBP? Maybe. If the alternative is a couple of pensioners, that’s $40,000 times two equals $80,000 — and most of it gets spent in our community.
So there are definitely two ways of peeling that particular onion.
But the larger question here is: are tourism and retirement at odds or can they find common cause?
If tourism makes it possible for Hellyer’s and Peacock’s to carry more and fresher meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and baked goods — that’s great. But if over-tourism makes it so you can’t get a seat at your favourite restaurant or a parking space at your favourite shoreline spot, that’s not so great.
But what if STA conversions drive real estate values so high that the staff at Hellyer’s, Peacock’s and your favourite restaurant can’t afford to live here?
And even more important — what happens if over-tourism makes it so that retired people no longer want to live here? In the immortal words of Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore — it’s too crowded.”
It all comes down to what we care about, as a community and as a municipality.
If money is the most important thing, then anything that increases property values is great. Eventually those increased property values will get picked up by MPAC and will generate more taxes for the municipality (or more accurately, permit the municipality to reduce the mill rate).
As a general principle, the less regulation there is, the more a property is worth. If you can rent to anybody, anytime, that maximizes revenue, which raises property values.
What could possibly be wrong with maximizing value and maximizing potential revenue? Those peeling the other side of the same onion object to the commercialization of residential properties, pointing out that the purpose of residential zones is to provide residences, not revenue streams and capital gains.
Property values mainly matter to those who want to buy or sell a property — otherwise they are irrelevant. Most long-term residents of MNBP hardly notice when their property values go up or down. What they care about most is community — jobs, schools, medical care, daycare, recreational opportunities, stores and services, public safety — all the things that roll together into “quality of life”.
Our municipal government has to find a way to satisfy all the voters — the 4,400 people who live here and a similar number of property owners who don’t live here. The ones who live here and want more services, the ones who don’t live here and want lower taxes. The ones who want to rent their properties to anybody anytime and the ones who object to the constant parties at the STA nextdoor. The ones who want to maximize the value of their investment property and the ones who want property values to drop so their kids can afford to live here.
Is that an onion or a minefield?
Our municipal Council has to find a way to peel that onion or pick a path through the minefield. Either way, there will be tears and explosions. There is no possible way they can satisfy everyone, because different groups want diametrically opposite outcomes.
Somehow Council has to divine the “will of the majority” amid all the tears and explosions. This is made especially difficult by the fact that those who agree with the proposed course of action are largely keeping their heads down and not saying anything.
The Staff Report and proposed Bylaw Amendments represent staff’s best guess as to an appropriate compromise.
I don’t envy staff or council.