The votes have been cast and the verdict is in: Sunfest is coming to Cowichan Lake.
At last Wednesday’s meeting of the Cowichan Valley Regional District, directors voted in support of two bylaws that will allow Sunfest Concerts to host its annual country music festival — and other events — on recently purchased land in Youbou. Electoral area directors voted overwhelmingly to approve the bylaws, with only Alison Nicholson, Area E (Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora) director, opposing the motions.
The vote came towards the end of the meeting and did not include a public discussion.
More than 30 Sunfest supporters were present at the CVRD general meeting to witness the decision firsthand.
“All of us who are involved with Laketown Ranch and with Sunfest are all very excited that we can move forward with our plans,” said Sunfest owner Greg Adams, who added he was not surprised by the CVRD’s decision, given all the technical reports and information his company provided during the application process.
“I think the directors did an excellent job of going through all the information and it was a positive outcome,” Adams commented.
The approved bylaws amend the Youbou/Meade Creek Official Community Plan and Youbou/Meade Creek zoning, and enables Sunfest to begin development of the land, which will include a stage, an outdoor amphitheatre, event parking and festival camping.
Sunfest County Music Festival has operated for 14 years and attracts thousands of music lovers each year.
Area I director Klaus Kuhn said he feels good about the decision he and his fellow directors reached because of the potential Sunfest has to revitalize the community.
“The economy hasn’t been very kind to us here,” he said, citing the closure of Youbou’s school and several businesses. “You need young people in a community. And our hope is that if Sunfest and related festivities take place here, it will show the visitors that this is a beautiful area and we hope that some of the younger people will move here again.”
The proposal to move Sunfest to the Lake has provoked strong feelings among some area residents, with opponents voicing concerns the concerts would bring unwanted disturbances to the community, particularly in terms of noise and traffic.
Kuhn acknowledged that during the festival’s first year there may be some disruptions with respect to traffic or additional visitors to the beaches.
“Will these disruptions be unbearable? I don’t think so,” he said. “It will probably be a bit of a learning experience in the first year…But I have a lot of faith in this area. I think the people will adjust.”
Kuhn said he believes there are a lot of misunderstandings about Sunfest coming to the lake and how the company regards its future home.
“If you start a venture like that, and it takes a lot of effort and money and commitment, you’re going to do the best job that you can. You’re not going to just say, ‘Oh I’m just out to make money and I don’t care what the community thinks.’ I don’t think that will happen.”
Diana Gunderson, who has been a vocal opponent of the project, addressed the CVRD during question period at the end of the meeting.
“I have to tell you I’m devastated,” she told the directors. “I live about a half mile away from the Sunfest site. It’s my retirement home, it’s my 30 year investment. I can’t just pack up and leave. My family lives up there.”
She and fellow opponents Jack Peake and Rosemary Danaher spoke to the Gazette two days after the CVRD’s decision and said they were still in a state of shock.
“The basis of our concern is that the process itself is flawed,” said Peake, citing what he described as a lack of due diligence on the part of the CVRD.
“They accepted every report from the proponent but did none of their own research…[We have questions] that should have been independently researched by the CVRD and not just assumed that everything that’s told to them by the proponent is 100 per cent accurate.”
Peake, Gunderson and Danaher said residents were not consulted enough and that the approval process was rushed.
Peake also said the number of non-supporters is greater than the 54 people who entered written submissions opposing the project.
“There was a large number of people who didn’t put in written submissions, who weren’t prepared to jump into the fray and deal with the issue. They’ll tell you one-on-one they’re opposed to it, but that’s about as far as it goes,” he said, noting that while his group of opponents is upset, they aren’t prepared to give up their fight just yet.
Sunfest’s owner said he wants to be respectful of everyone’s opinion, even if he disagrees.
Adams said he doesn’t want to focus on the negative, regarding objections to Sunfest’s relocation, and that his team has already made some changes based on feedback they’ve received from the community.
“The people that had valid concerns, we take those into consideration and try to make every adjustment we can. And the people you just can’t satisfy? Well, we respectfully disagree,” he said.
Sunfest Country Music Festival 2016 runs from July 28 to 31.