The North Cowichan (British Columbia, Canada) council is seeking an urgent meeting with Jennifer Dyson, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), to discuss the future of the Chemainus River Campground.
This step underscores the council’s commitment to addressing the challenges faced by the campground and its residents following the ALC’s recent ruling, a Lake Cowichan Gazette report highlighted.
During a council meeting on December 6, members unanimously agreed that Mayor Rob Douglas should arrange a meeting with Dyson as soon as possible, preferably before the Christmas holidays. This urgency reflects the council’s recognition of the significant impact the ALC’s decision has on the livelihoods of people in the municipality.
The council also passed a motion requesting the ALC to extend its deadline of Oct. 31, 2024. This extension would allow for the removal of structures at the three-hectare site associated with long-term stays. Additionally, the council seeks permission for all long-term tenants currently at the campground to remain on site until the new deadline.
Mayor Douglas emphasized the importance of buying time for the few long-term residents, stating, “There are not many folks that are living there long term, but we’re trying to buy them some additional time in terms of continuing to reside on the property.”
The ALC’s decision in October denied North Cowichan’s application to exclude the campground from the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve. However, the campground, located at 8862 Trans Canada Hwy., can continue operating under its current ownership, which is non-transferable. The ALC also ruled that stays beyond 28 days are not permitted, and structures associated with long-term stays must be removed by the deadline.
John and Jeri Wyatt, who have operated the campground for 20 years, bought the property in 1980. They sought to expand the campground in 2017, leading to the ALC’s decision-making process that began in 2018. Following John Wyatt’s death in September, Jeri Wyatt, nearing 80, faces the challenge of maintaining the campground with assistance from family and campsite residents.
Bill Routley, former NDP MLA for the Cowichan Valley, spoke at the council meeting on Dec. 6 on behalf of Jeri Wyatt. He described the ALC’s decision as devastating for her and the campground community, highlighting the emotional and physical strain it has caused.
Rob Conway, North Cowichan’s director of planning and building, reported that long-term residency at the campground, while not officially condoned, has been a response to the housing shortage and lack of affordable housing options in the Cowichan region. He noted that compliance with the ALC’s decision would compel residents to find alternative accommodation in a difficult housing market.
Coun. Bruce Findlay pointed out that the only way to appeal the ALC’s decision is with new information. He questioned whether the province’s recent decision to reduce short-term rentals in B.C., which could remove hundreds of units from the Cowichan Valley, might constitute such new information.
Mayor Douglas responded that this angle might be beyond the ALC’s consideration scope. However, he committed to raising this point during the proposed meeting with the ALC chair.
This situation at the Chemainus River Campground highlights a broader issue facing the campground and outdoor hospitality industry.
The challenges of zoning regulations, land-use changes, and the need for affordable housing solutions are increasingly relevant to campground operators.
The North Cowichan council’s proactive approach in seeking dialogue with the ALC serves as a model for other municipalities and campground operators facing similar challenges. By advocating for extensions and reconsiderations, they demonstrate the importance of balancing regulatory compliance with the practical needs of campground residents and operators.
The outcome of this meeting could set a precedent for how similar situations are handled in the future, potentially influencing policies and decisions that impact the campground and outdoor hospitality industry at large.