CVRD paves the way for Sunfest’s Lake debut

“All of us who are involved with Laketown Ranch and with Sunfest are all very excited that we can move forward with our plans."

Sunfest is coming to Cowichan Lake.

At 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 near Youbou. Electoral area directors voted overwhelmingly to approve the bylaws, with only Alison Nicholson, Area E (Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora) director, opposing the motions.

“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.”

The approved bylaws amend the Youbou/Meade Creek Official Community Plan and zoning, and enable 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 reached by the board 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 the 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 will bring unwanted disturbances to the community, particularly in terms of noise and traffic issues.

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.”

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.”

Adams said he wants to be respectful of everyone’s opinion, even if he disagrees. He 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, with headliner Carrie Underwood and a host of other stars, runs from July 28 to 31.

Sidebar:

Sunfest timeline

Lexi Bainas Citizen

Sunfest has a long, colourful history in the Cowichan Valley.

It began at Providence Farm as a one-night, one-stage event, using the Islands Folk Festival’s setup and stage.

In the following decade and a half, organizers moved both the event and its focus, discovering a rich vein of country music fans. After outgrowing Providence Farm and Avalon Acres farm on Herd Road, it was decided to take a year’s hiatus as plans were developed for a much bigger event at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds on the Trans Canada Highway north of Duncan.

2000-2003: Sunfest first rises over the Cowichan entertainment horizon

2004-2008: The growing festival moves to Avalon Acres on Herd Road

2009: took a year off to get things organized for some big changes

2010: the move to the Cowichan Exhibition and phenomenal growth as a country music extravaganza

2015: announcement of land purchase at Meade Creek and another, and hopefully final, move to a site called Lake Town Ranch.

2016: decision by the CVRD board on zoning change for Lake Town Ranch.