Tiny STR task force grappling with issues around 'ghost hotels'

·4 min read

If you’ve looked at paper where a scorpion has been cut out, you can see the shape of a scorpion in the negative space.

Tiny council asked Jamie Robinson, of MHBC Planning Urban Design & Landscape Architecture, to provide an opinion on the definition of short term rentals from a planning perspective, relating directly to the township’s zoning bylaws, the official plan, and the Municipal Act.

Robinson reviewed the current zoning bylaw for Tiny, enacted in 2006 and having undergone updates for housekeeping issues. He found no clear answers in his research, but was able to define around the issue with clarity.

“The task here was to answer two questions,” said Robinson. “Whether or not short term rental (STR) accommodations are a residential use or a commercial use, and whether or not STRs are permitted by the zoning bylaw (ZBL) currently.”

Only in recent years have STRs been a point of contention for many municipalities, from regional to national, while antiquated laws attempt to catch up to the loopholes they use.

In the memo provided to council during a recent committee of the whole meeting, Robinson addressed both questions separately, beginning with information on dwelling units.

“What the ZBL does not currently do,” Robinson began, “is that it identifies different types of dwelling units, but doesn’t contain any information about the tenure -- whether they’re to be used on a rental basis, or whether they’re to be used as occupied by the owner. There’s no information related to that from a dwelling perspective.

“Why that’s relevant here is where we see the majority of these STR are in dwelling units, whether it’s detached dwelling units or semi-detached dwelling units,” Robinson explained. “There’s no specifically-defined term in the bylaw that distinguishes between the different occupancy or tenancy of those dwelling units; there’s no timing associated with that.”

Robinson noted only hotels and motels are listed in the ZBL as tourist accommodation units. However, a ZBL term called 'tourist establishment' exists, which provides a definition for a use that relates to accommodations for the travelling public.

“So there’s a little bit of a disconnect between those tourist accommodation versus tourist establishment definitions,” opined Robinson, “which I think will, in all likelihood, get cleaned up through this process or have greater clarity added to this process.”

Within the conclusions of the MHBC memo, Robinson states that there is a tipping point where a property shifts between residential use to commercial use, although he isn’t certain where that point resides.

“There’s certainly land use planning impacts associated with these units where they’re used as, for lack of a better term, as ghost hotels; where there’s a variety of these in the area. It does have the potential to change the character of the area and result in a large number of land use planning impacts,” said Robinson.

Robinson additionally cautioned Tiny council and staff to take the time in crafting the new definitions, noting that managing risk now for the municipality will reduce legal time and fees should conflict arise later.

Coun. Tony Mintoff offered a hypothesis on the tourist establishment definition, that the council of the day chose to limit tourist establishment opportunities to three small zoning areas, such as the shoreline commercial area, as a means to limit and regulate occupancies for vacationing travellers.

The comment encouraged Robinson to bring up two additional points.

As the unique occurrence of STR occur in dwelling units, Robinson asked, “Can a dwelling unit also be a tourist establishment? Or are tourist establishments intended to be something different that were purpose-built structures, such as a cabin rental.”

Also, to the unique circumstance of seasonal shoreline properties being secondary dwelling units for people who live elsewhere in the province, country, or world, but that the principles are generally the same.

“Provided that people continue to use their, for lack of a better term ‘cottage property’, themselves and rent it out periodically, that might fall into a different category,” said Robinson, “I expect there will be different categories developed for different frequencies of rental, for example.”

Council forwarded the report to the Short Term Rental Task Force.

Information on the New Zoning Bylaw program can be located on Tiny township’s website.

Archives of council meetings are available to view on Tiny township’s YouTube channel.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca

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