Councillors refuse short-term rental, will look at bylaw update

An update to the town’s short-term rental bylaw could be presented to local politicians by the end of the month.

Last addressed by council in 2021, a revamped version is on its way soon through a bylaw, explained Fire Chief Jay Plato when asked about the status of the update by Coun. Wendy Cheropita at Tuesday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting.

“At this point, we’ve sent it to planning to confirm that we don’t have any issues between zoning and our final draft,” said Plato.

Coun. Gary Burroughs pointed to earlier in the same meeting as an example of how he hopes the update addresses Bill C23 - provincial legislation on housing that says accessory dwellings are permitted on properties.

Committee members and staff heard from Darren Feener, a property owner who was appealing the town’s decision to deny him a cottage rental license at his Mary Street location, at last week's meeting.

He was denied the request because a cottage rental is not permitted on a property that includes a secondary residential unit, according to the current bylaw. It would have to be a long-term rental if both were to co-exist on the same property as the main house.

Councillors voted to uphold staff’s recommendation and deny Feener moving forward with the application.

Burroughs said the request “could have been dealt with” differently if the new bylaw was already adopted. “I’m concerned it’s taking so long,” said Burroughs.

Planning director Kirsten McCauley said staff could aim for the bylaw to be brought to the town’s short-term rental committee by the end of the month, which will then have to be approved by council.

In an interview with The Local, Cheropita said the town has had “a number of issues” with short-term rentals in the past and that she recalls dozens of recommendations being brought forward by the committee , and eventually sent to staff in 2021 to include in the bylaw update.

Of those issues, one of them was regarding short-term rentals existing in quiet neighbourhoods and some of them creating unwanted noise.

Another recommendation that came from the committee was that a home can not be offered as a short-term rental unless someone has lived at the property for at least four years, which she said is important in addressing what’s available locally for people to rent long-term. “We know we have an issue with having a lack of rentals,” said Cheropita. “We want to make sure we balance that,” she added.

Cheropita, who was the only councillor who voted in favour of Feener’s appeal, said it’s “critical” to get the bylaw and its updates adopted.

She said he’s done a “beautiful job” on his Mary Street property, and realizes that he did make a "mistake" by going ahead with the work before having a full understanding of the current bylaw. “Can we not find some kind of compromise?”

Cheropita said she doesn’t want to “come down hard on staff” for the time it has taken to bring the bylaw back to the committee and council, but that she’s eager for the update to be shared.

On the town’s website, the short-term rental committee is not listed as an active committee, but Cheropita said it will have input on the incoming update. The local bed and breakfast association, Stay Niagara, she added, had representation on the committee and has been a “very good partner with the town.”

Kris Dube, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara-on-the-Lake Local