Not In My Back Yard, otherwise known as “NIMBYism,” is a growing phenomenon in Canadian towns and cities.
Frequently, we see middle and upper income Canadians oppose new housing projects on suspect grounds such as environmental concerns, the height of buildings and even the shadow a building will cast. Under the banner of protecting a community’s “character” many developments get sidetracked, delayed or cancelled altogether.
Unfortunately, NIMBYism isn’t just reserved for our major cities. It can rear its head in our small towns, and stretch into areas well beyond housing and development.
For wine lovers in Southern Ontario, one small town that is regularly frequented is Niagara-on-the-Lake. If you are like me, weekends in Niagara are truly wonderful. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that part of what makes Southern Ontario so great is that wine country is so close.
Unfortunately for wine lovers, the NIMBYs of Niagara-on-the-Lake have started to chip away at what makes the region so much fun.
First, was the town’s proposed noise bylaw that would cap noise at 55 decibels at any time of day. For reference, light vehicle traffic brings readings of well over 60 decibels. The proposal, if it was approved, would have come with a $350 fine for anyone caught “being too loud.” Beyond being a perfect example of the ever encroaching nanny state, the proposal would have been devastating for local businesses, and the region’s most important sector, the wine industry. If that proposal was approved, it would have outlawed virtually all live music, shut down the area’s winery concert venues, and eliminated popular events like “movie nights in the vines.” Luckily for those who frequent the region, like myself, the town quickly backtracked in the face of public pressure, and the bylaw was scrapped unanimously by council in August.
While consumers, and fun, conquered NIMBYism in August, that relief was short lived. Town council in Niagara-on-the-Lake has now set its sights on homesharing platforms like Airbnb. New proposed regulations would require that any homesharing listing be the primary residence of the owner, meaning you have to physically live on the property if you are renting it out to tourists. If approved, this would eliminate over 150 rentals in the area which are not the primary residence of the owner, and likely force those owners to sell.
These properties are obviously vital for their owners, but more importantly, the availability of these rentals are instrumental for tourists travelling to wine country, and the local economies that depend on that influx of economic activity. A popular homesharing listing in the area can easily get 100-plus bookings a season, which represents tens of thousands of dollars worth of economic benefit for local stores, restaurants and wineries. These rentals are popular because they give tourists the opportunity to rent a fully private space, with an authentic experience, as opposed to a simple room in a hotel.
Eliminating these businesses and making it harder for tourists to find affordable accommodation seems like a backward strategy given the horrific impact the pandemic has had on tourism and hospitality. You would think that local legislators would air on the side of economic growth in these conditions, rather than doubling down on restrictions and regulations.
Supporters of the principal residence mandate might point to cities like Toronto, who have implemented similar restrictions on homesharing. However, in Toronto the justification for doing so was to increase supply in the long term rental market. Those restrictions were misguided when they were passed, and the jury is still out regarding the impact it had on the long term rental market. That said, could Toronto’s justification also apply for Niagara-on-the-Lake? Toronto has a population density 31 times larger than Niagara-on-the-Lake, which makes the housing supply argument disingenuous at best. If town council is concerned about the housing stock or the long-term rental market, there is lots of room for modest development.
Luckily for those who are bothered by the rise of NIMBYism, these regulations are just a proposal, and the public can still provide comment to town council. Hopefully, enough people express their outrage, and we can win yet another battle against the rise of NIMBYism.
Originally published here.