While at least one councillor is not yet satisfied with the amended short term-rental provisions included in the latest draft of Stratford’s new comprehensive zoning bylaw, the document is now in its final stages as council prepares to consider further public feedback and make last-minute changes ahead of approval.
On Monday, councillors had their first opportunity in 10 months to openly discuss the bylaw and its new provisions during their planning and heritage committee meeting. These new provisions, which only allow short-term rentals in principal residences, came after council decided last month during a closed-door meeting to rescind a March decision to allow short-term rentals in principal and secondary residences for an annual maximum of 180 days.
“We have brought to you several updates in the past on the comprehensive zoning bylaw review. With the resolution adopted in December … I think we have the last piece of the puzzle and we can now move on to schedule a meeting where we can present the entire bylaw for you,” said Jeff Leunissen, the city’s former manager of development services who retired last year but has stayed on with the city to work on the bylaw.
While council had originally endorsed short term-rentals in both principal and secondary residences, city staff suggested current limitations in both bylaw enforcement and access to attainable housing prompted the amendment.
In March, council also asked staff to determine if council could limit short-term rentals to homes in the city’s heritage district – another provision that was ultimately abandoned for reasons of legality and fairness to all residents.
“I feel very strongly that we’re going down the wrong way, and my reasons for that are short-term rentals are the fastest growing sector in tourism,” Coun. Graham Bunting said Monday. “We looked at the Toronto approach, but we aren’t Toronto. We’re Stratford. … I’m all for short-term rentals being regulated, I’m all for safety inspections and I understand the attainable housing situation.
“Most of us know there are quite a number of people who live in Stratford who have got an extra property that they use as short-term rental. … I still strongly feel that buy-in by those people is still extremely important during this process. I want everybody to want to buy in … to this process. Otherwise they’re going to pack in the short-term rental (and) sell to someone from the (Greater Toronto Area).”
Bunting said he wants to ensure there’s enough time for current operators, Destination Stratford and others to weigh in on these proposed provisions and discuss how a proposed municipal accommodations tax – a measure that has stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic – could impact businesses before council approves the zoning bylaw.
Responding to the proposed bylaw’s new provisions, Stratford and Area Bed and Breakfasts and Accommodations (SABBA) president R.L. Read said the opportunity for local operators to expand their businesses beyond the traditional bed-and-breakfast model and for new operators to join the association as fully licensed accommodations businesses is exciting.
“This decision could be of benefit to those who want to still try to make income in addition to our regular season, which suffered greatly this past year,” Read said in an email. “We are grateful for any concessions the city can make to help our sector going forward through pandemic.
“For short-term rentals, they can elect to not provide breakfast service (and) some may even be able to run business completely autonomous from their short-term rentals for the sake of everyone’s safety.”
Read said limiting short-term rentals to principal residences only is a little concerning, as many SABBA members own second properties in the city, but noted the current proposed provisions are a step in the right direction.
Leunissen said staff is hoping to host a special meeting of council to allow residents to learn about the new provisions and amendments made to the draft bylaw since March, listen to council deliberations and submit additional comments and concerns.
In response to Bunting’s concerns, city CAO Joan Thomson said there will be ample time for all interested stakeholders to weigh in and for councillors to propose and consider amendments before the bylaw is approved.
“If I could … just suggest for council that we keep the process moving forward. … Any recommendations made today still need to go to the Jan. 25 council meeting for approval by council … and then at some point after that notice (of a special meeting) can go out. That would allow staff time to reach out to Destination Stratford and try to provide more information here with what the concerns are and work with them, but it would also allow staff to keep this project moving forward,” Thomson said.
If council votes to keep this process moving at its next meeting, city staff will send out a notice of consideration, including a date for a special meeting of council, to the nearly 200 residents who had requested updates from the city on the development of the bylaw.