Those waiting for direction from council regarding short term rentals in Bonfield may be in for a long haul, as the township estimates a 14-month process to review the issue.
Bonfield’s chief administrative officer (CAO), Brian Walker, updated council during its regular meeting on March 22, as per council’s request.
Short term rentals—often listed on sites such as Airbnb and Vrbo—have become a divisive issue for residents. Presentations have been made to council, and petitions circulated both for and against allowing homeowners to rent their property for short periods.
“I have been looking into what other municipalities are doing across Ontario,” in terms of short-term rentals, Walker said. He also sent a survey to other CAO’s and planning departments for research and has received “over 38 responses.”
These municipalities “are either done dealing with this matter or are in the process,” he explained. Walker also revisited the township’s official plan and its zoning bylaw and found “it does not have the language necessary to either refuse or allow short term rentals within our township.”
The books are blank on the subject, “and at the moment, there are no current regulations regarding them.” However, throughout Ontario municipalities, with the ever-increasing popularity of short-term rentals, “this has come to be a hot-topic item.”
North Bay and East Ferris have started reviewing the topic as well, Walker said, and of the 38 municipalities he spoke to, “15 have either updated their zoning by-laws or have made amendments to their zoning by-laws,” and 21 are in the process of reviewing their zoning by-laws and are in the process of amending them.
The other two? “One decided not to address short term rentals until after completing a full review” of their by-laws, “and one is awaiting the outcomes to challenges that are before the Ontario Land Tribunals.”
Those municipalities that have “already resolved this” put in a lot of work, Walker noted, usually about “six months reviewing their situation and conducting community consultation.”
However, he cautioned that the average time to complete this process is one to one and a half years. Some took “two and a quarter years from start to finish.”
With so much time at stake, many municipalities turn to consulting firms, Walker noted, “spending tens of thousands doing so.”
Of the municipalities he spoke with, “all but one decided to permit and allow short-term rentals in the municipality, but in so doing, they are forced to regulate them.”
For example, licences are required to operate short-term rentals in many municipalities, and homeowners “have to sign annual agreements with the municipality.” Limits on how many short-term rentals can exist within a municipality have been imposed, as have occupancy limits regarding how many guests are allowed per square meter of rental space.
Fire and emergency regulations could also need to be revised, same with parking permits, Walker noted, and investigations might need to be undertaken to identify how natural habitats could be impacted. All of which could mean additional costs, “and most municipalities have had to increase their by-law enforcement staff,” to ensure regulations are followed.
Half of the municipalities Walker spoke with mentioned having short-term rentals “contributes to the economy and tourism.”
Walker explained that work is underway on Bonfield’s review of “short-term rentals, glamping, and yurts, as part of its new official plan.”
He estimates the completion date will be “no later” than May 2023. The township is in the process of recruiting a new planner, which contributes to the length of the project. “At this time, availability of staff and staff expertise may be lacking,” Walker noted.
If all goes well, the plan could be ready this fall, Walker said, but suggested the following spring as the final deadline.
Councillor Marc Vaillancourt appreciated the report, and “considering the timeline, I think we should have staff start looking into it, but I think it’s going to be a next council issue for sure.”
Councillor Jason Corbett concurred. “I’m not trying to pass the puck” to the next council he said. “Although it may not make everyone happy, it is going to take some time to get this right.”
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.