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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Council passes amendment to regulate STRs, provisionally adopts By-Law to licence and regulate

by Sylene Argent

On Monday evening, a special Council meeting was held to continue the discussion on Short Term Rental Units (STRs).

  Lori Chadwick, Director of Development Services, said the purpose of the meeting was to provide Council with a proposed Zoning By-Law Amendment and a stand-alone licensing By-Law for STRs.

  Staff recommended officially passing By-Law 2150, Being a By-Law to amend the Comprehensive Zoning By-Law 1037 to regulate Short Term Rentals (STRs) in the Town of Essex.

  In a recorded vote, after around two-hours of discussion, Council passed the motion unanimously, with Deputy Mayor Steve Bjorkman not participating in the conversation or vote as he declared a conflict of interest.

  In addition, Council provided provisional adoption of By-Law 2025, to licence and regulate STRs in the Town of Essex, with final adoption to take place at the May 16 regular meeting. 

The Zoning Amendment would permit a STR in a residential zoning district only if it has been established and in operation in an existing dwelling on or before the adoption of the By-Law on May 9, and that an STR will not be permitted in a Residential Zoning District if established after the adoption of By-Law 2150, except by approval of a site-specific rezoning through Council. This would trigger public notice and a public meeting to explain the proposal and seek public feedback from the neighbourhood.

  In addition, through By-Law 2150, new or existing STRs would be permitted in a single-detached dwelling in an agricultural district, or in dwelling or dwelling unit in a commercial district. New STRs would be permitted in a cabin within a campground in a green district.    

  Council hosted public meetings on the topic earlier this year. At the May 2 meeting, members discussed Councillor Jason Matyi’s Notice of Motion, which asked Council to direct Administration to provide that all licence applications to operate STR properties established after a specified date in May require the owner of the STR to either be living in or on the property as their primary residence or be within 100metres of the property in their primary residence in order to be considered for a licence to operate a short term rental unit in a residential zoned property.

  As a result of the discussions on May 2, Chadwick suggested preparing a new zoning by-law amendment that would only recognize existing short term rentals, and would allow staff to license the ones that are existing.

  On Monday, discussions continued.

  “We truly feel that we have come forward with a solution that incorporates much of the concerns we have heard from members of the public, but also provides us with opportunities to offer accommodations, opportunities as part of our growing tourism sector,” Chadwick said. “Following what we hope is Council’s passing of these by-laws, there will be a team of professionals tasked with overseeing the licensing and enforcement of STRs.”   

  Rita Jabbour, Manager of Planning, explained through the course of the year – through public open houses, meetings, and via correspondence from members of the public, business owners, and STR operators – staff members for the Town of Essex have been able to narrow down the common issues.

  Robert Auger, Director of Legislative Services/Clerk, noted formal license applications will be accepted, if the property conforms to the Zoning By-Law, on September 1. All STRs in Essex must be licensed by December 1.

  Getting a license (valid for three-years) includes full compliance with the Zoning By-Law, complete application form with supporting documents, payment of the fee, proof of insurance, a sketched floor plan and site plan, and getting a fire inspection. There is a demerit point system for enforcement.

   Mayor Richard Meloche wondered if there was a standard the Town could look at when noting the units have to be clean and sanitary, as he thought that wording was arbitrary. Chadwick noted the Property Standard By-Law still applies.

  Councillor Joe Garon believed the licensing fee was too low. He said this is a business, and perhaps there should be an adjustment in taxes as they are making money.

  Director of Corporate Services, Kate Giurissevich, said the licensing program will allow the Town to work with MPAC to ensure properties are properly zoned and taxed appropriately.

  Councillor Chris Vander Doelen said he believes this By-Law will go a long way in reducing and controlling the few problems experienced. He hoped it is not too onerous and scares off too many owners of the rental cottages and stamp out the tourism industry the Town has been trying to develop. He said it is a good start.

  Councillor Morley Bowman noted by-laws are never perfect when they first come out and are always a work in progress.

  Councillor Jason Matyi said he would still like to see a provision included that would require the owner/operator live in their STU or within 100m.

  Chadwick said it would be impossible for Administration to enforce that for existing STRs, but could be for new ones that forward.  

  Council did hear from a delegation, who noted they bought the house next door to their own to be an STR and experienced setbacks with the renovation because of COVID. They wanted to be included in the licensing program, and asked for an extension as they continue preparing their site.

  Vander Doelen made the motion that the delegates should be granted an exemption, so they can proceed as planned, with an extension date to June 30. Motion carried.

  Several Councillors spoke about directing administration to investigate a hotline or report a problem, so residents can report issues.

  Chadwick said Administration will investigate that to suggest best practice.

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