My responses to residents: 1

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Questions? I have answers.NB: As a candidate for Deputy Mayor in the upcoming municipal election, I receive questions from residents about my stand on various issues and policies. I will post my responses here for everyone to read. My responses are in italics, below.

One of my main concerns is development in the area. I do understand that development is important for the economic growth of Collingwood and builds a tax base. My concern is the natural area that makes Collingwood beautiful is shrinking especially with the future housing plans.

Is this a priority for you? If yes, what will you do to ensure protected areas remain protected and the natural beauty remains? If not, please explain.

Response: I too am concerned, but there’s not much any municipality can do because planning is controlled predominantly at the provincial level. Collingwood was designated as a growth area several years back, as part of the provincial plan to limit sprawl in more rural areas. The county also supports this, by the way. It means we see more residential growth than most of our neighbours. And yes it means increasing loss of greenspace.

Compounding this is the shift in real estate that has driven many homeowners in the GTA to sell and move outside the city – and with it a demographic change because many of these new residents are older and retired. That has driven up the market for housing and accelerated the growth in some areas.

Although growth brings in new money – and for a council that manages its finances carefully, that helps keep taxes low – it also means more demands on infrastructure and services, which can also raise costs for them. And few if any of the new homes are in the “affordable” range for many of our residents (especially seniors and low-income earners).

The Planning Act, the county’s Official Plan and our own Official Plan lay out what can be developed and where. Since all of this land is in private hands, we can only regulate it according to these documents: things like servicing, density, setbacks, roads, tails, parkland, etc. We can slow growth down through bureaucratic means, but not stop it indefinitely.

We even have little to no control over things like style and design (although last term I did manage to get a change to stop the building of ‘snout houses’ here). Last term I also raised mandatory tree planting in new developments, but it didn’t gain traction (I’ll try again next term).

This means the town has to be more focused on those areas it can control: parks, trails, the waterfront, environmental lands and our urban forest. Years ago, I advocated for the town to buy the Silver Creek wetlands, but even though it’s a provincially-significant wetland and is under threat from development, council didn’t want to spend the money. I think it’s still worth pursuing – as well as purchasing other waterfront property in the environmentally protected areas.

I also tried to get the town to institute a tree conservation policy, but it stalled as the previous election came up. I’ve pushed for trails and trail access in the three terms I served. Last term council opened at least two new parks in new developments.

If elected next term I will continue to advocate for greenspaces, trails, parks and sustainable growth. And as deputy mayor I will raise it at the county for a wider policy approach.

I am a big supporter of public transit and commuter cycling. I do not get the sense that is a priority currently for Collingwood.

• Do you think this is important and if so, what will you do to support this?

Response: I was on the council through brought in our buses and transit systems. I’ve long been an advocate for alternate transit. I’ve fought for three-meter-wide sidewalks (for shared use, such as along First Street’s north side), for bicycle lanes and even for better, more efficient bicycle racks downtown (and to make them mandatory in all new commercial developments). I’m a great believer in public transit.

The growing popularity of the region for cycling means we need a regional approach to paving shoulders on popular routes, improved signage, creating rest stops and water stops for cycling groups, and encouraging local cycling events. It can’t be done by Collingwood alone. I’d like to see a regional committee formed with the local cycling club. And again I would raise it at the county for a wider regional approach and establishment of policies and best practice.

PS. My wife and I are cyclists, but only for local recreation rides around town or the area.

Airbnb seems to be a hot topic in the area. I understand there is currently a bylaw in place not allowing short-term rentals. I also understand it a a polarizing topic with its effects on the community and long-term rentals being hard to come by. I did see one candidate mention they want to restrict it even more. I agree it can have negative effects but overall it provides a great income for local residents and allows for more tourism dollars to come into Collingwood. I am not for more restrictions.

• What is your view on Airbnb and what do you propose to do?

Response: All local and most Ontario municipalities have short-term residence laws. Most have B&B laws too, but these require the owners to lie on premise. Some of the short-term rental laws came into place in response to problems over party houses, traffic and noise violations. Laws like these are generally in flux according to local situations.

Airbnb owners pose a challenge to municipalities when property owners take long-term rental housing off the market for the more profitable short-term rentals. This means local residents have to move and find other accommodations – not easy in a town where rental housing is already at a premium. It hurts low income earners and seniors most. And developers are not building many if any new rental units like apartment buildings here. In my own neighbourhood, houses were bought by non-residents solely for the purpose of turning them into Airbnb rentals.

This can also cause a lot of problems in a neighbourhood when existing residents are suddenly faced with increased traffic and street parking (one local house went from a two-car family to having six and seven vehicles every weekend), with noise, with strangers changing every weekend, and with potential decreases in property values (who wants to buy a house located beside a rental known as a party house?) The increased traffic means more wear and tear on small streets and boulevards.

Plus, because our bylaw is generally a complaint-response system, it puts the onus on neighbours and residents to complain about problems and issues. And with a smaller bylaw enforcement workforce on weekends, it also means no one responds until much later.

Airbnb poses serious liability and regulation issues to all municipalities. Because of liability laws (joint and several liability), if a guest at an Airbnb property gets hurt, sick or trashes the place, the municipality can be sued (generally successfully) for failing to enforce bylaws, and health and safety standards. Neighbours can sue over noise and property damage, too. I took a workshop one year on municipal insurance and the liabilities that towns and cities have. It’s very scary and generally very expensive.

Airbnb poses a challenge to local hotels, too, because they often offer rates lower than what commercial hotels and motels charge, thus taking away business. This can affect income and cause commercial operations to reduce staff to meet expenses. Commercial operations have to have sprinkler systems, fire routes, properly signed entrances and exits, accessible floors, health department approvals, meet building codes… live up to a whole lot of regulations, laws and policies. Plus they pay commercial taxes and face strenuous tax regulations and reporting.

In fact, even long-term rentals have more restrictions and controls to manage than Airbnb rentals. I’ve spoken with many landlords over the challenges and frustrations they face in trying to operate rental properties efficiently and honestly.

My own feeling about Airbnb is that they should be allowed only under the same rules as any commercial operation (after all, it is a commercial transaction): proper fire and safety systems in place (including sprinklers and emergency exits), accessibility, pass regular health and building inspections, require an operating licence, and pay fair taxes or licensing fees. I simply want it to be a fair and level playing field for everyone in the rental business.

Until then, I think the town has to enforce its bylaws to avoid the expensive liabilities that can accrue from ignoring these operations. But when I am elected, I will ask for a public meeting and information session to get the opinions and ideas of residents about this, to best gauge what direction council should take. I’m a great believer in asking for public input into big issues that affect the whole community.

Changes of this nature should really come from the province, however. I would ask the town and the county to lobby the province to set fair and manageable standards for municipalities to deal with these and similar corporations that challenge the way municipalities operate. That would be more effective than setting individual policies or bylaws.

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