By Stephen Petrick
When tourists come to visit Haliburton County short-term are they contributing to the economy or are they a burden on the environment, public safety and causing other issues which threaten rural living charm?
Haliburton County expects to soon get residents’ thoughts on this issue, as staff are preparing a survey to prepare for a new short-term rental policy.
A draft of the survey being prepared by the county’s planning department, with the help of a North Bay-based planning firm, was released to Haliburton County council at the Wednesday, Feb. 23 virtual meeting.
The draft of the survey was heavily scrutinized by several councillors, meaning several changes will likely be made and eventually brought back to council for approval at a future meeting.
But the overall direction of the survey has not changed; it is to gauge what concerns residents see developing from the use of cottage rentals, Airbnbs and short-term housing stays.
It’s expected to be the first of two surveys released, in order to gain information that will help Haliburton County develop a policy that would put regulations on setting up short-term rental businesses.
“The intent of this survey really is to explore perspectives on short-term rental accommodations generally and to begin to understand both the issues and opportunities and what the constraints are,” said Jason Ferrigan, from the firm, J.L. Richards & Associates.
The first draft of the survey asked residents to rank the level of concern they have on issues such as excessive noise, parking, public safety, impact on the tax base and loss of character in neighbourhoods, among other issues.
It also asked residents to express the level of concern they have for cottages and dwellings, whether they’re used by a usual visitor, a periodically-present visitor, a frequent visitor or a year-round visitor.
But it’s unlikely that those questions will be asked exactly in the way they were worded in the first draft.
“The questions are poorly worded,” Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy said bluntly, during one of four instances where he spoke up to criticize the survey draft.
In another instance, Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said matter-of-factly, “I still don’t understand what you’re looking for.”
The comment was directed at Ferrigan, who was explaining the fourth and fifth questions on the survey, which asks responders to rank their level of concern on various issues.
Councillors lobbied for many lines to be rephrased differently and for the wording to be tweaked to get better, more succinct information.
Moffatt said the draft of the survey didn’t meet her expectations, as she has been waiting for several years for a deep investigation into the benefits and costs associated with having plenty of short-term rental venues in the area.
Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts also expressed concern that the survey, as it stood, was allowing people to express concerns they may have about short-term rental accommodations, but not an opportunity to express the positives.
“There is a great economic benefit to having more people come here and rent here. There are businesses thriving on the business of short-term rentals,” she said. “Somehow that needs to be captured and I’m not sure how.”
Council voted to receive the report and direct J.L. Richards & Associates to work on a new draft and bring it back to a future meeting. The survey was, originally, intended to be released in March.