John and Jeri Wyatt’s ordeal isn’t over yet, but they hope there’s finally some light at the end of the tunnel.
A year and a half ago, the owners of the Chemainus River Campground were on the verge of being shut down before being given a last-minute reprieve. It all concerned the property being in the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission’s insistence of its use for agricultural purposes and not a campground, even though it had been operating in that fashion since May of 2003.
North Cowichan council stepped in at the time and passed a motion at a September 2019 meeting to direct staff to submit a notice to the ALC under Section 29 of the ALC Act to exclude the Chemainus River Campground lands from the ALR.
COVID and other long delays later, here we are today with a virtual public hearing coming up next Wednesday, April 21 to allow North Cowichan council to receive input on the proposed ALC exclusion application.
It’s expected to generate little, if any, opposition since the details that came to light about the property’s suitability for strictly agricultural purposes are negligible. But the Wyatts won’t feel totally comfortable until a final decision is made by the ALC, which might still be a long time in the offing.
Rob Conway, director of planning and building for North Cowichan, said this public hearing is a bit unusual because it’s not going to result in the municipality making the final decision.
“We’ll submit whatever feedback is received at the hearing,” he indicated. “We would normally get the information out within a week or two.”
Once the minutes are completed from the meeting, the application will go to the ALC, but there’s no telling how long it will take before a ruling is made.
For the Wyatts, they’re just hoping everything goes smoothly from here so they can keep the business going without the ALC uncertainty hanging over their heads.
“It’s been a struggle,” conceded John.
The favourable thing for them is how the municipality responded during the meeting in 2019 with a strong show of support.
“Everybody voted in favour of us getting removed from the ALR,” John pointed out.
The Wyatts also received support in the form of more than 1,000 signatures.
“We only did that in a couple of months,” pointed out Jeri.
They know they could get a lot more signatures if it was required.
The Wyatts will also have former MLA Bill Routley as a representative during the 6 p.m. Zoom meeting April 21. Routley knows land-use issues like the back of his hand and jumped into the fray last time to call attention to the Wyatts’ plight.
“We’re going to let him speak for us,” said Jeri. “He’s been our lifesaver. He fights for what he believes in.”
The campground covers 23.33 acres, according to John, and there are numerous full-time residents.
With accommodations in short supply and movements restricted by COVID, “we could have it full right at this moment,” said John.
They keep a limited number of sites open and they’re in high demand with the main season for camping approaching.
When the Wyatts first bought the property it was agricultural land that allowed campgrounds under A2 zoning. That was later changed.
But even though it’s in the ALR, the land has never been deemed suitable for agricultural use with mostly poor soil. The best soil is growing 50-80-year-old trees, a fact Routley illustrated during his presentation to North Cowichan council in 2019.
“If we get that monkey off our back, our zoning doesn’t change but we only have to deal with North Cowichan,” noted John.
“They’ve been pretty darn fair,” said Jeri.
The Wyatts also hope to put this behind them, as they look ahead.
“I’d like to get retired one of these days,” Jeri laughed.