At the South Algonquin Asset Management Committee meeting on June 30, the committee and staff discussed the rising concern in the municipality with multiple travel trailers being on private properties on more of a permanent basis versus temporarily. After much discussion on the issue, the committee decided to have staff look into permitting the use of these travel trailers through the implementation of a recreational vehicle/travel trailer licensing bylaw. Staff will be doing more work on this and bringing the results of their efforts to another committee meeting in the near future.
At the June 2 council meeting, Bryan Martin, the CAO clerk-treasurer, told council about the burgeoning concern from residents and staff about multiple travel trailers being used for habitation on a single property. This is in contravention of the township’s comprehensive zoning bylaw, under section 4.24 and of the township’s official plan policy, under section 2.16.1.
Planning and building administrator Tracy Cannon reiterated at the June 30 meeting that the township had noticed an increase in these trailers on vacant lots and lots with permanent dwellings since June 2, approximately 30 trailers.
“This creates a little family trailer park and creates a problem with compliance with the zoning bylaw, where the sewage is going and being on vacant land it creates the problem that they’re not assessed so we’re actually losing assessment dollars. It’s not fair to other property owners who are paying full taxes for their property and the dwellings on them,” she says.
Council had requested on June 2 that staff look into and come up with some options for this issue. Three alternatives were presented to the committee; enacting an RV/travel trailer licensing bylaw to collect revenue and protect the environment from property owners having these trailers on their properties, settle anyneighbourly disputes around these travel trailers and giving the municipal bylaw enforcement officer tools to enforce compliance with the bylaw if not voluntarily complied with. Amendments to the official plan and to the comprehensive zoning bylaw would be necessary as would passing an RV/travel trailer licensing bylaw.
The second alternative was to permit these travel trailers without the implementation of an RV/travel trailer licensing bylaw. An official plan amendment would be needed and a zoning bylaw amendment to allow these RVs and travel trailers is accordance with the provisions of the applicable zoning bylaw.
The third alternative was to prohibit the use of these travel trailers and leave the zoning bylaw as is. This would require enforcing the current bylaw and issuing warning letters and eventually fines if property owners do not comply. If they wish to inhabit a travel trailer on their property, an OPA and ZBLA would be required at their expense. Staff further cautioned that current resources do not allow for adequate enforcement if that is the chosen route, so more staff and resources would be needed. In addition, OPA and ZBLA need public notice per the Planning Act and can both be appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal.
Councillor Sandra Collins pointed out that a solitary trailer should be permitted on a lot, but if it’s more than one trailer that’s where the problem arises. Cannon confirmed that under the current bylaw, storing one trailer is permitted. It is using them as a secondary dwelling that is the issue.
The chair of the committee, Councillor Joe Florent noted that a whole plethora of problems arise with this whole scenario.
“Some of these are properties with existing homes as a second or third Bunkie type arrangement, some are being used as [bed and breakfasts], and there are other situations where there is no primary dwelling and it’s serving as a cottage, and since it’s not assessed as a building the township doesn’t get any taxes from it,” he says.
Florent said there were other situations where they were being used as a primary home. Although he’s not aware of that in South Algonquin, he conceded that could be happening. He also brought up the other class of trailer; the mobile home, and the added problem with them being when they cease to become mobile homes and become affixed permanent dwellings.
Mayor Jane Dumas said she was also concerned with the number of trailers she’d noticed and thought they should look into the option of licensing them somehow. She said it wasn’t fair to the property owners who pay taxes and use the infrastructure in the township, as the people living in these trailers also use this infrastructure but don’t pay any taxes.
“At the beginning of this council term, Councillor Shalla, Councillor Bongo and I took part in a webinar out of the United States. Trailers were a big issue there in communities larger than Whitney or Madawaska or other areas of South Algonquin. But they did studies, and the impact on the infrastructure of those communities was significant with the increased volume of unlicensed trailer usage within their area and they had to go to more stringent control measures,” she says.
Councillor Richard Shalla asked if there had been any complaints about these travel trailers, and Dumas said she hears complaints about it all the time.
Councillor Richard Shalla thought some of the trailers may be because of COVID-19 and families wanting to social distance but stay together on the same property. He even thought that perhaps some of them were people living in them with the intent to build upon a vacant lot they’ve purchased.
Florent replied that they weren’t concerned with weekend camping or those with a building permit, they were concerned with longer stay use trailers where people were living in them for extended periods.
Aside from enforcing the bylaw as currently written or not doing anything at all, Martin said initiating the RV/travel trailer licensing system would be a good way to manage the situation.
“Although there would be an enforcement component that is by no means a small undertaking by staff or by council to bring these properties into compliance that are currently not in compliance,” he says.
Bongo said he was in favour of exploring the licensing program but also suggested doing a social media engagement to inform, prevent any misinformation from getting out and getting residents’ feedback. He thought there were a few things propelling this situation; the lack of housing availability in South Algonquin, COVID-19 which pushed urbanites to explore and want to live in rural areas like South Algonquin and challenging employment opportunities in the area, so people are using these trailers as an Air B&B to supplement their income.
“As long as we balance the interests of people and residents here able to enjoy the outdoor recreation activities here but also taking responsibility over things like the environment and sewage control and things like that. If we can find that happy medium hopefully though some sort of licensing or regulation system, that would be the way to go,” he says.
Collins said that she used to own a trailer park and there were additional issues of providing potable water to trailer residents, disposing of the septic/black water safely, and also the electrical has to be ESA approved. She says there is no regulation at present over the water, septic and electrical at these private homes with multiple trailers. If the licensing system proceeds, she worried about potentially jeopardizing people’s health and safety if this was not closely monitored in some way.
“It just seems very wrong that we are allowing this where there is lots of control over a designated camping area. I’m actually quite concerned about the black water going into the ground especially as they all want to be waterfront. That will start seepage into our water table which isn’t very high here and that will increase contamination in our water courses definitely,” she says.
Councillor Dave Harper had concerns about collecting revenues from these trailers and in the safe disposal of the sewage they’d generate, especially since South Algonquin doesn’t have sewage disposal site. He was also concerned about the township becoming involved in the approval of electrical or water systems at these trailer sites.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea. I don’t think we should be involved in something like that that’s someone else’s responsibility, like the Ministry of the Environment or Health, but not our municipality,” he says.
Councillor Joe Vermaire, who is familiar with travel trailer camping life during vacations, said that having the trailers in the township under a licensing system would be a revenue generating, especially being on the cusp of Algonquin Park.
“However, I don’t know if a permit system is the way to go if we don’t have the infrastructure within our community to alleviate some of that pressure,” he says.
Martin said they should have some sort of rules in place if it continues, otherwise they’ll have to send enforcement officials out with letters and start the process of getting compliance. He cautioned if that happens, there will be irate phone calls to the councillors to complain.
“Tracy and I are open to discussing this and working together with staff and the community on how to best regulate this issue. Obviously, taxation loss is a small part of it and they are using our services so certainly fees associated with a licensing process often compensate for this loss of taxation. So that’s kind of where we’re at from a staff perspective and I’ll leave it to council for direction and guidance,” he says.
Florent said he thought that they should go with option one, the licensing system, and prepare it for another committee meeting in the near future. At that point, they can bring it to council and it can be approved or sent back for more work.
Bongo suggested that if they direct staff to go this route with the licensing system, staff should include all the fiscal impacts as well as the staff hours that would be needed to investigate it and enforce it.
Like Bongo, Dumas supported community consultation, but wants to ensure it’s from residents of South Algonquin and not from other jurisdictions.
“We’ve had experience with community consultation where we had feedback from out of the area, the province and the country. And I think this is a very important issue and it should be the residents of South Algonquin who live here, who vacation here, who have property here, who have the priority input in the process,” she says.
Florent thought that was a good point, and thought they should move on to other business.
“I think we have direction for staff to prepare that motion and we’ll bring that back to another committee meeting soon and discuss it again.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times