Campground use returned to zoning bylaw after owner outcry

North Cowichan makes campground use legal again on agricultural land, staff reviewing stay lengths and types of RVs allowed

John and Jeri Wyatt say they need to have a percentage of long-term stays to make their Chemainus campground viable.

John and Jeri Wyatt are law-abiding folks.

So the Chemainus River Campground owners were shocked to learn, through their realtor, their 23-acre spread was illegally allowing camping; North Cowichan council had scratched campground use from its A-2 zone.

“There was no notice, so we just carried on as normal,” Jeri said.

That campground cancellation also hit Country Maples, and Bald Eagle campgrounds, plus Chemainus Gardens Holiday Resort.

The four owners fought the zoning change started under North Cowichan’s previous council.

Their voices were heard Wednesday when council gave third reading to an amendment returning campground use to A-2 (agricultural) zones, Mayor John Lefebure explained.

Likely by year’s end, staff will also hand council recommendations defining short-term and seasonal camping stays, and types of visitors — such as park model RVs — allowed in A-2 campgrounds.

The Wyatts simply want a return to all camping uses — from tents to RVs — allowed before council began fine tuning its campground zoning in 2010.

Even with Wednesday’s return to campground status, Chemainus River, Bald Eagle and Country Maples were still restricted to 28-day stays.

“We can’t survive on a 28-day limit,” an angry Jeri said. “Who’s gonna monitor that? People will (stay) illegally; this is so stupid.”

John agreed. “North Cowichan wants campgrounds for the travelling public, but we need a certain amount of permanent or long-term visitors.”

The Wyatts accept any site upgrades need municipal permits.

In July 2012, Chemainus Gardens was allowed to keep its various park-model RVs, and campground status. That’s because its property sits outside the agricultural land reserve, Mayor John Lefebure explained.

It’s also hooked to municipal water and sewer services.

Park-model RVs — with about 400 square feet of year-round living space — probably prodded the past council to address weak campground-use definitions, and what staff saw as “a proliferation of permanent structures, and a movement away from being proper campsites,” the mayor said.

While Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley viewed park-models as an affordable housing option for seniors and others, Lefebure cautioned “the agricultural land reserve doesn’t allow residential neighbourhoods.”

“A campsite is not a residential neighbourhood.”

But council’s zoning tweaking tossed a wrench into the Wyatts’ plans to sell their property — it devalued their campground, by an unknown amount, from their current asking price of about $1.6 million.

Their decision to sell was prodded by John contracting cancer, and Jeri’s wish to enjoy her golden years after retiring from school-board janitorial duty.

Their plans have been rocked, aside from spending some $1,000 so far on lawyers, they explained.

They suggested council’s campground zoning allow all types of camping, but dictated by a percentage of each property’s size.

Lefebure seemed open to ideas.

“We definitely don’t want to restrict legitimate campground businesses.

“Council wants to be as helpful as possible to see these businesses survive, without them moving from campsites to residential developments,” he said, noting staff will likely mull park-model for short-term stays.