Short-term rentals' future up for debate in Harrison Park

·7 min read

The future of short-term rentals in the Municipality of Harrison Park has seen party lines drawn, dividing those for and against the properties.

Harrison Park Reeve Jason Potter said short-term rentals (STRs) have been a growing topic of debate in the community.

“We are seeing that people are staying closer to home, and I think that’s what’s driving the major need for accommodations in the Onanole area currently. We are right nestled up against the south side of Riding Mountain National Park … People want to come there,” Potter said. “This is a good problem to have — people want to visit and ultimately spend tourist dollars. We just need to figure out a way that alleviates concerns on both sides.”

The municipality started receiving complaints regarding STRs from local residents at the start of 2021, he said, and the council has witnessed an increase in complaints in residential areas since that time.

The municipality has been monitoring the situation and is working to find a solution based on local concerns and the precedent set by other municipalities, both in Canada and around the world.

“Different municipalities, different cities worldwide really have been struggling with how to regulate short-term rentals, and more specifically, Airbnb properties,” Potter said.

Two delegations have appeared before the council regarding STRs: one in favour with some regulations, and one calling for an outright ban of the properties in any residential areas.

Potter has asked that the two opposing sides of the issue get together to have discussions to see if they can formulate a plan for STRs that could be presented to the council. Two councillors have volunteered to sit with the local groups.

His ultimate goal, Potter said, is to find a balance that meets the needs of Onanole residents while avoiding bylaws being too restrictive for STR owners.

“I cautioned council not to make any snap decisions on this. I believe that if there was a new bylaw to be implemented, then it should be well thought out,” Potter said. “Right now, the two sides are far apart, and I’m really hopeful that they can sit down and have some meaningful discussions and come up with a plan to present to council.”

Onanole STR owner Conner Ross appeared before the Harrison Park council as a delegation on Oct. 13. His presentation supported STRs in the area with regulations in place — it was organized in response to a delegation that appeared before council on Sept. 22 calling on all STR properties without on-site management to be banned from residential lots.

Ross owns two STR properties in the area.

Clear Lake has become an increasingly popular tourist destination year-round, and the market has allowed for the local economy to grow, Ross said. STR properties can potentially help aid this growth in tourism dollars.

“These properties are bringing a significant amount of business into our community. They’re bringing a lot of positives, and they’re allowing a lot of businesses to stay busy throughout all 12 months of the year,” Ross said.

He added accommodation rentals in Onanole are limited, driving the need to ensure STRs are available for visitors. He estimates that if an outright ban took place, more than 70 properties would be affected.

Ross said he wants to see a good relationship between the community and STR property owners. He is willing to work and collaborate to develop appropriate rules and regulations.

Moving forward, he would like to see the community work together to develop appropriate bylaws for the Onanole area, allowing the economy to continue growing and residents to be satisfied with the situation.

“It would be a huge detriment to just shut them down and take away tens of thousands of people from visiting our resort community — but I do agree that this is a good time as an ever-growing industry to sit down as a group of people and create some bylaws and some policies and some procedures that can help the municipality,” Ross said. “We’re trying to work as much as we can with the community.”

Ralph Clark appeared before Harrison Park council on Sept. 22 as a representative of a group of individuals opposed to STRs in residential areas. Clark first joined the group in August, but was unable to confirm when the group launched in the area.

The group’s major concern, he said, is there are businesses operating in residential zones of Harrison Park.

“It’s a concern because if you look at municipal bylaws and the zoning regulations, all businesses are operating in commercial zones as opposed to residential zones,” Clark said. “If owners of short-term rentals would like to operate as a business, they can find areas in appropriate zones.”

Careful planning is needed to ensure STRs are in properly zoned areas, and Clark’s group is exploring communities that have faced similar situations.

Clark, who lives in the area full-time, has experienced first-hand how challenging it can be having a neighbouring property operating as an STR.

“We were directly impacted because I refer to it as a ‘self-check-in hotel’ [STR] opened up across our road in a residential area,” Clark said. “The impact was there was noise, parking, trespassing, an impact on a number of areas and a number of issues that would be similar to any other business that is operating in a residential zone.”

Clark said while the municipality has asked them to collaborate with STR owners to find a zoning bylaw that satisfies all sides, his group remains vehemently against letting the properties operate in residential areas.

Based on current zoning bylaws, all hotels and motels must operate in a commercial area, he said, and the same rules should be applied to STRs.

The only viable option Clark sees moving forward is finding viable commercial zones for the STRs to occupy or having property owners living in the home with an STR rental, similar to a bed and breakfast.

“Businesses should be operating in a commercial area, not in a residential area,” Clark said. “For two groups to get together to come up with a solution which will involve businesses operating in a residential zone totally goes against currently established bylaws.”

Real Estate agent Tyler Plante owns a single STR in a detached condo at the Bears Den in the Onanole area. He has seen a busy year for 2021 with few open vacancies, and next summer is already completed booked.

Plante said the opposition to STRs in the area came out of the blue, and he was troubled to see locals calling for the properties to be completely shut down.

“We were quite surprised. I will say I’m all for having rules, I’m all for having regulations They are important. I can speak for all of the renters at the Bears Den … that we are very structured,” Plante said “We do feel it is very important to have our locals looked after and be treated with respect.”

STRs at the Bears Den support local businesses and help drive the economy in the area, Plante said, explaining guests are given a welcome basket that includes details on shops to visit.

He worries the call for STRs to be banned could negatively impact the business community in the area. Plante added the proposal is also unfair because it impacts property owners — a shutdown would result in the loss of investment because properties will no longer be able to generate income if shuttered.

Moving forward, he would like to see rules and regulations developed that respect STR owners and their neighbours.

“I have no problem with a middle ground … You can’t have the Wild West of short-term rentals,” Plante said.

“I’m fully on board with having a fair set of bylaws, quiet times and restrictions … There does need to be a governing body. But we need to take all facets and angles into consideration.”


» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp

Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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