The Chemainus River Campground can remain as a campground, but only under the current ownership.
That’s one of the rulings made by the Agricultural Land Commission on an application submitted by the Municipality of North Cowichan on behalf of campground owners John and Jeri Wyatt to remove the campground from the Agricultural Land Reserve.
John subsequently died in September, leaving Jeri as the sole surviving owner. She turns 80 next year and isn’t sure how long she can keep up the campground on her own, but is getting help from family members and people staying in the campsites.
The Wyatts bought the nearly 23-acre property in 1980 and have operated the campground for 20 years on the site. They sought to expand the campground in 2017 and the ALC began the process toward its response in 2018 on whether the campground could continue on the Agricultural Land Reserve or cease to exist and revert to agricultural usage.
“The decision allows the campground to remain as long as the current owners continue to operate it,” said Rob Conway, director of planning and building for the Municipality of North Cowichan.
“The campground is to be removed if the property transfers and be restored to some sort of agricultural land.”
The ALC report indicates the panel does not approve the exclusion of the property from the ALR. It did, however, approve the continued use of 21 full hookup campsites and 20 non-hookup campsites, the main office building, gardening shed, pump house and washroom facility as a non-farm use subject to conditions.
The 30-page ALC summary and decision authored by Linda Michaluk, chair of the Island panel, lists conditions that include: within 90 days, the property owners must register a covenant for the purpose of limiting the campground use to short-term accommodation of less than 28 consecutive days; approval for non-farm use for the sole benefit of the current property owners that’s non-transferable; submission of proof of removal of any structures such as sheds, patios and fencing associated with the long-term stay full hookup campsites be furnished by Oct. 31, 2024; and requiring reclamation of the campsite area within nine months in the case of the property owners ceasing operation of the campground or prior to transfer of title of the property.
“Should the above conditions of approval not be completed to the satisfaction of the ALC within the time frame specified, the approval will expire and a new application may be required,” the decision reads.
“It’s put me in a terrible position,” said Jeri. “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 agricultural capability of the land has long been debated by experts, but shown to have limited potential throughout the property after extensive testing and analysis. There’s also the issue of drawing water from the already depleted Chemainus River for any proposed agricultural use.
On the water issue, “the commission finds that exclusion of land from the ALR based solely on the presence of some limitations to agricultural capability and current lack of water is short-sighted and inconsistent with the commission’s mandate to preserve the land base of the agricultural land reserve,” the report emphasizes. “Further, given that the property is surrounded by land in the ALR, exclusion of the property would result in an intrusion of non-ALR land in a contiguous area of ALR.
”The panel finds this intrusion of non-ALR land would negatively impact the integrity and continuity of the ALR and has the potential to increase conflicts. By retaining the property within the ALR, the commission has the opportunity to regulate use of the property to ensure any potential non-farm uses are compatible with the future agricultural use of the property and the current and future agricultural use of surrounding properties.”
The recent death of her husband has clearly complicated the situation for Jeri. She’s concerned about affecting people who rely on the campground for a temporary place to live with nowhere to go during a housing crisis.
“It’s not a position I want to be in,” Jeri said. “I care about them. I don’t want to be putting them in a position where they feel trapped. It’s got to work for all of us, not just for me but for them.”
“The application submits that the campground is addressing a temporary and permanent housing need in the community,” reads the analysis and findings section of the ALC decision. “The panel understands that the municipality views the proposal as a benefit to the community as it provides low-cost housing. However, the broader housing issue in B.C. cannot be resolved through ad hoc applications to the ALC. The commission must weigh proposals against its purposes, as set out in Section 6 of the Act. These purposes are agricultural.”
“Some of the occupants have added a small shed or minimal fencing to keep dogs in their site or a small wood platform so they can enter their RV without tracking mud and dirt in,” added Steve Schult, Jeri’s brother-in-law. “All of this is required to be removed by Oct. 31, 2024 even though there is no decision to shut down the campground or sell the property. The justification is that this negatively impacts the agricultural viability of the land. It is an ALC requirement to return the campsite to its state when they started using of the site. Removal of these small conveniences have never been a problem since we opened and we cannot see it as a problem in the future as everyone has taken their property with them.
“On one section of the ALC’s response they cite their policy to provide a year to submit an appeal, then they turn around and provide only three months for Jeri to submit a covenant to agree to all of their requests or the municipality will have to submit a new application,” summarizes Schult. “Once the covenant is submitted, the ALC could have legal standing to deny any requests without review. We would like for this stipulation to be removed.”
Jeri said at this point, “everything’s still up in the air. We would have sold it before if we could have. We had buyers but because of the situation we were in we couldn’t sell.”
The matter will go before North Cowichan council at a future meeting to see if councillors would be agreeable to making an appeal on Wyatt’s behalf.