I am writing this letter to set the record straight, vent some frustration and, hopefully, provide some education. While I have been listed as a “Friend of Maple Pool”, this letter contains my opinions and understanding of the situation, and does not represent the views of the Friends, the Lins, or my company, Wedler Engineering LLP. This letter is my personal view and understanding of the facts, and as such, any errors are also mine.
The property on which the Maple Pool campsite sits is currently zoned R1-A. This is a residential zoning that only allows a house, secondary structures, home occupation and, in some cases, agricultural uses. Prior to being annexed by the City, the property was zoned CR-4 – a country residential zoning under the Comox Strathcona Regional District with similar restrictions. The Maple Pool property has never, in its history of operation as a campsite, had zoning that allows the historical use as a seasonal campsite.
The City of Courtenay had allowed, and documented, that the use of the Maple Pool site as a “seasonal campsite” represented a legal non-conforming status. This was due to the long history of the operation and the lack of any prior enforcement of the zoning bylaws in place by either the City or the Regional District. The City’s position (and the crux of the whole issue from the City’s point of view) is that having year round occupancy of the site is not within the operations that were granted legal non-conforming status. The operations and use that the City considered as being included in the legal non-conforming status include seasonal, temporary camping. As such, the City moved to enforce their zoning bylaw, as they are required by law to do.
For those who don’t agree that the City should enforce their zoning bylaw, consider if you will a port-a-potty operation. Imagine you live on a rural residential property, surrounded by other rural residential properties. Imagine your neighbour starts a port-a-potty business and is storing, cleaning and transferring port-a-potties right next to your house. Would you want your local government to assist you by enforcing their zoning bylaw, and filing at the very least, a court injunction telling your neighbour that they had to cease and desist the commercial activity on their property?
The above example happened in the Comox Valley, and I can guarantee you that the affected neighbours were very happy that the zoning bylaw was enforced. Enforcing legislated land-use is one of the prime roles of local governments.
The action the City did take; the filing of a law suit demanding that the property be stripped of all improvements that support the camp site business, was, in my opinion, harsh and unnecessary. While I am no expert in these legal matters, my experience when land use is an issue is that local government would file for an injunction, and then negotiate with the land owner to resolve the issue. Furthermore, the length of time the City took to finally propose a workable, productive solution was far too long. The works and permits being negotiated and executed now should have been in place, and this issue resolved, at least 3 years ago.
In August of this year, the City finally issued a letter with a workable, productive way forward to resolving the issue at Maple Pool. The City has offered to take care of the zoning at Maple Pool by unilaterally rezoning the property to address the current use. This is a major move by the City, and represents a massive concession to move this issue to conclusion. In exchange, the Lins are responsible for works to improve the flood protection and safety on site, and permits associated with those works. Based on my experience working as a consultant in land development for the last 10 years, none of the permits or works being requested are outside of the normal expectations for what needs to be accomplished on site to protect the property and improve safety for the residents. What is unfortunate is the 3 years of wasted time that has passed since the solutions now being accepted were first suggested to the City by the Friends of Maple Pool, specifically, myself.
When looking at the history of this issue, progress began when the new CAO was hired by the City. Prior to David Allen starting in 2013, no progress towards any sort of workable solution was made. In the year and a half that Mr. Allen has been the CAO, he has found a process to resolve the whole issue that both City Council and their legal team has agreed to. I also note that the CAO is the only employee that City Council hires, and that his role is to work with the Mayor (CEO) to advance all agendas and issues that the City has to deal with. I point this out because the current council is directly responsible for retaining Mr. Allen, and have worked with Mr. Allen to help resolve this issue.
My firm was retained by the Lins in 2011 to assist with applications and a rezoning process. This was prior to the evolution of the court case, and the Lins defence evolving to that of their property being legal non-conforming and not in need of rezoning. In 2012, my firm shifted to providing services on a pro-bono basis, and since that time we have contributed over $6,000 in professional services to assisting the Lins resolve this issue. Further, I have provided significant additional personal assistance to the Lins.
The catalyst for me putting these thoughts down on paper is the notion by some of the Friends of Maple Pool, and some of the candidates for City Council, to have a “march” on City Hall on Monday, November 10th. I have to ask, where was this fervor and passion for the past 3 years? There are those who state that the City finally providing a way forward is only because of the pending election, and the incumbent councillors desire to get re-elected. Well, this sudden desire for a “march”, lead notably by some hopeful candidates for council, the week of the election, appears to me to be nothing but political grandstanding and will not in any way contribute to actually helping the Lins, the residents of Maple Pool, or with resolving the law suit.
If anyone considering participating in this “march” really wants to help the Lins, and help resolve this issue, I have some more productive suggestions for you. First off, you can donate money to the Friends of Maple Pool to assist them with hiring some of the other professionals they will need to complete the permits required for the works at Maple Pool. Secondly, when the work is done on site next summer, you can come down to Maple Pool and push a shovel, or pull a rake, or operate a compactor and help raise each of the trailers above the flood level.
The time for politics, muck raking, finger pointing, and grandstanding is over. Some of us have been in the trenches for a while; and we’re happy to welcome new members to the team. Let’s get to work.