“I am against that project and I will vote against it all the way,” said Councillor Simon Rozon at the end of a presentation from AirBnB operators to council during its August 8 session. Rozon’s declaration drew loud applause from the visitors gallery.
Most of the people attending council that evening were East Hawkesbury residents, including several homeowners from the Front Street neighbourhood, where an AirBnB vacation house, also known as a short-term rental (STR) or a short-term accommodation (STA), is located. The property has become the subject of controversary after council heard complaints from a delegation of neighbouring residents during its June sesssion. Most of the complaints concerned excessive noise during the early-morning hours.
But some concerns also focused on the impact of large groups of people staying there and using a home sanitary system more suitable for a small family. Delegation members expressed concern about the impact on the local aquifer that supplies drinking water to the neighbourhood.
Most of the worry focused on the impact of large groups of people on a home sanitary system more suitable for a small family and also on the local aquifer that supplies drinking water to the neighbourhood. The local homeowners also expressed concern what the presence of a temporary vacation house will have on their own property values.
The owner Ken Lee, an Ottawa resident, owns the property. He expressed concern to council duing its August session that past reports about his property and its use are incorrect.
« There’s a misconception about my place being a ‘party house’, » he said. « I am strongly against parties. »
Lee lists his property on the AirBnB website for STRs. He said his listing states no parties and no loud music after 11 p.m. for anyone who rents his property.
« One of the basis things we tell our guests is ‘you have to respect the neighbours,’ » said Lee, adding that he paid $2 million for the riverside property. « So we don’t want people to come and destroy our place. »
He noted that the rental guidelines also include a two-day minimum occupancy and a very high rental rate to deter « weekend party crowds ». He told council that he hires local people for cleaning and lawn care for his property. He also contacted neighbouring homeowners when he bought the property, explained what he planned to do it, and provided his phone number if they experienced any problems.
« I also have the right to enjoy my property the way I want, » he said, « so long as I follow the rules. »
« It is the first time that we’ve had to deal with this in East Hawkesbury, » said Mayor Robert Kirby. « We’re a fairly close-knit community. It can be disturbing for people living beside this (STA). They never know who their neighbours are going to be. That could be a concern. »
Mayor Kirby also indicated concern that Lee did not first approach council or meet with administration to explain his plans for the property after he bought it.
A Mr. Gopi, who did not provide his full name, was present during the session. He told council that he also owned a waterfront property in the township that he rented out as an STA. He told council that he has a property manager to handle the site and also specific rules for renters. He noted that East Hawkesbury should be open to the concept of short-term rentals as part of its tourism economy.
Carole Zbacnik was part of the original delegation of homeowners that met with council in June. She told council during its August session that there were eight groups occupying Lee’s STA on Front Street during July.
« On average they stayed three days each, » Zbacnik said. « They were not all loud and obnoxious and rowdy. Two of them (renter parties) were, without a doubt, very loud. There was music on until late in the morning. I was told by other neighbours that, until about four o’clock in the morning, the music was non-stop. »
Zbacnik also reported seeing a beer table set up outside and four dogs on site and not all them on leashes.
Since the first delegation complained to council about the situation in June, the township has hired a consultant to report on possible options for dealing with short-term vacation rentals. The consultant report listed options that range from banning such operations altogether in the municipality, to classifying them as commercial operations under the zoning bylaw and creating a specific category for STAs, along with operation guidelines for the property owners and penalties for infractions.
« There are still a lot of questions we need answers for, » said Mayor Kirby.
He also noted that Councillors Karina Sauve and Stephanie Sabourin were not present for the August 8 session. He said he wanted the full council present for any final decisions on how to deal with the issue of STAs in East Hawkesbury.