In a significant ruling by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), the Chemainus River Campground has been permitted to continue operations, but with a critical caveat: it must remain under its current ownership.
This decision, stemming from an application by the Municipality of North Cowichan, underscores the complexities facing campground owners within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), a report from Saanich News highlighted.
The campground, owned by John and Jeri Wyatt, has been a fixture in the community since they purchased the nearly 23-acre property in 1980. However, following John Wyatt’s passing in September, the future of the campground fell into uncertainty. Jeri Wyatt, nearing 80, faces the daunting task of maintaining the site, albeit with assistance from family and campsite residents.
In 2017, the Wyatts sought to expand their operations, triggering a review process by the ALC. The commission’s response, delivered in 2018, was a blend of approval and restriction. While the campground’s existence was affirmed, its continuance was tied directly to the Wyatts’ ownership.
Rob Conway, director of planning and building for the Municipality of North Cowichan, explained, “The decision allows the campground to remain as long as the current owners continue to operate it. The campground is to be removed if the property transfers and be restored to some sort of agricultural land.”
The ALC’s decision came with stringent conditions. These include the registration of a covenant limiting stays to less than 28 consecutive days, non-transferability of the non-farm use approval, and the removal of structures associated with long-term stays by October 31, 2024. Additionally, should the Wyatts cease operations or transfer the property, the campsite area must be reclaimed for agricultural use within nine months.
Jeri Wyatt expressed her dilemma, stating, “It’s put me in a terrible position. I can keep the campground as long as I sign a covenant. I’m trying to digest it to see what direction I’m going to go next.”
The ALC’s decision highlights the tension between land preservation and the evolving needs of the campground industry. The commission emphasized its mandate to preserve agricultural land, even in cases where agricultural capability is limited, as with the Chemainus River Campground.
This ruling has broader implications for the campground and outdoor hospitality industry. It underscores the need for owners to navigate regulatory landscapes carefully, particularly when their properties intersect with agricultural reserves.
The case is set to be discussed in a future North Cowichan council meeting, potentially opening the door for an appeal on Wyatt’s behalf.