Deep division over rock festival

The future of the Rock of the Woods music festival at its Sahtlam location comes down to a land-use issue.

The future of the Rock of the Woods music festival at its Sahtlam location comes down to a land-use issue, according to CVRD Area E Director Alison Nicholson.

Nicholson presided over a meeting at the Eagles Hall on Oct. 26 where members of the public were encouraged to share their thoughts and concerns about an application for a temporary use permit that would allow the festival to take place for four days a year from 2016 to 2018.

While those in attendance were largely in favour of continuing to hold the event at the Irvine Drive site where it has taken place the last two summers, immediate neighbours remain divided over the merits of the location.

“The community at large, particularly the young people that go to the event really love it,” Nicholson acknowledged. “There’s an emotional attachment to it; they really have a good time. [Neighbours] don’t like it there. They aren’t against the festival; they just don’t want it in their neighbourhood.”

While most neighbourhood residents who spoke at the meeting voiced their opposition to the event, festival organizers say they have the names and addresses of several residents of the immediate area who attended the festival or have otherwise voiced support, and displayed a map with the addresses marked. At least one opponent demanded to see a list of addresses or they “don’t count,” but organizers refused to provide the list due to privacy concerns.

Nicholson said neighbours who are against the festival are also worried about voicing their opinions publicly.

“I know quite a few people are opposed,” she said. “Some of them just don’t like to speak out.”

Concerns raised by opponents of the festival ranged from traffic on Sunrise Road and Irvine Drive and damage to the riverside to worries about fire prevention, something organizers have addressed to the satisfaction of the Sahtlam Fire Department. Other opponents compared the festival to the spawn of Satan, blamed the loud music for the death of a dog, and said they heard rumours that an “illegitimate baby” was born at the event. Organizers flatly denied that any babies had been born at Rock of the Woods.

Festival director Dave Bain was pleased with the turnout for the meeting.

“I thought it was a good showing,” he said. “It allowed for good dialogue regarding the CVRD and Rock of the Woods.”

While opponents say that they don’t have anything against the festival, but don’t want it held in Sahtlam, Bain says there are no other options for a location.

“The one reason this festival has stayed alive is because Clayton [Frost] has donated his land,” he explained. “If they say no to this festival, that’s it.”

Even if the temporary use permit is approved for the next three years, Nicholson said she is worried that there could be negative longterm repercussions for the organizers.

“My concern is that they want to invest there, and I don’t want to lead them on,” she said. “It would be a shame for them to have invested in infrastructure.”

The CVRD could deny any building permits for the site, particularly close to the river, where an environmental assessment would be required, but Nicholson said that isn’t necessarily a solution.

“People are supposed to get permits to do anything down there, but people don’t always do what they are supposed to do,” she said.

Bain noted that Rock of the Woods has done no construction on the site, and has no plans to make any permanent structures. In fact, Frost went above and beyond to improve the riparian area when he bought the property, he said.

“Clayton took out dump trucks of garbage, and cars that were leaking into the river,” Bain said.

Festival organizers are going through the proper process as laid out by the CVRD as they seek their permit, but Nicholson doesn’t feel that system is appropriate, either.

“It wasn’t a good process,” when the TUP process was inserted into the Official Community Plan, she said. “I don’t think the community ever had a chance to understand what the implications were. It’s too vague. It didn’t define what ‘temporary’ meant.”

The Area E director said her plan is to address the concerns of the immediate neighbourhood when she decides how to vote on the festival permit.

“My personal view is that the bylaw says we are supposed to consider what the neighbourhood wants,” she said. “It is clear what the wider community wants, but we have to decide if this is appropriate land use in the neighbourhood.”