Developers tout economic spinoffs at Laketown Ranch open house

Trucks and cars lined every road near the proposed Laketown Ranch site at Meade Creek west of Lake Cowichan last Thursday.

Trucks and cars lined every road near the proposed Laketown Ranch site at Meade Creek west of Lake Cowichan last Thursday.

A crowd of people surged into a gravel pit to talk about a possible new home for the huge Sunfest country music festival, located in recent years at the Cowichan Exhibition.

Everyone wanted to learn more, and after picking up paper handouts, they circled thickly around developer Greg Adams, armed with their questions.

Adams said after the meeting that he was delighted at the size and attitude of the crowd.

“I think it was an excellent turnout. People were wonderful; they came open-minded to gather information and knowledge and I think most people received it really well,” he said.

Visitors are finding the Cowichan Lake area in increasing numbers and presenting them with events to attend is just icing on the cake but careful planning can deal with increased traffic during Sunfest or any other event at the new site, according to Adams.

“When you look at our whole presentation, you can see how much thought and engineering has gone into that already. The one thing that was nice Thursday was that some of the people there have seen my track record. I think it’s going to be a beautiful complex.”

Comment sheets were handed out and the development team will go over them, Adams said, but reminded everyone that any changes must fit into a plan.

“Just because someone makes a comment doesn’t mean we turn the whole thing upside down,” he said.

Adams is excited about the possibilities of a purpose-built venue. which will be located 350 metres in from Youbou Road, pointed away from built-up areas.

“Just think what could happen here. Pick a name. You could legitimately have Elton John up there performing in a year or two. You could have the Victoria Symphony up there for a few days; it has such potential,” Adams said.

At the meeting itself, Adams addressed such subjects as employment.

“There will be an economic spinoff benefit that will help this community and it does need an economic shot in the arm. It will have big benefits once [visitors] see what’s here,” he said, and then gave an example.

“Tim McGraw flew in [for Sunfest]. He took a picture over the San Juan Islands coming in to Victoria and he tweeted it out to his wife saying: ‘Honey, we’ve got to come back here for holidays’ and seven million people saw his tweet. Lake Cowichan can’t pay for that. That exposure is huge.”

Adams promised that every effort would be made to hire local people and use local businesses in building the site and at events.

“The only way I can answer that is that when we built Tim Hortons here we bought every stick of wood from [the Lake Cowichan] Irly Bird.”

Asked about jobs at the festival itself, he said, “Sunfest was me and an assistant five years ago. Now we have two and a half full time employees, 20 part time employees and over the event, from one week to four weeks, we hire over 125 people. It’s seasonal work. I can’t cure all the ills. No one here can. But any way we can possibly spin this into employement we will.”

Traffic was a huge concern for many residents, particularly those who live on North Shore Road, such as Shelley Coburn.

“I don’t want to stop [the development] but what I do want to stop is traffic coming onto our road. It’s very narrow, very winding and there are lots of people walking on it after supper, not to mention that people parking along there would be blocking all our driveways.”

When she asked that some plan be made to keep Sunfest traffic off North Shore Road, Coburn said she was surprised that Adams was ready to listen.

“I actually was quite impressed. When I went up there I was all gung-ho, with ideas of what I wanted to say but I was impressed with how much he had really looked into it and was willing to listen.”

Some other early opponents are changing their tunes, too, about the development idea.

Cathy Wagner said, after the event, “I have to admit, I am glad I went to the open house. A lot of questions were answered. I was on the fence with this [but] I do feel this will be a great addition to the Lake.

“There will be great opportunities for employment before, during and after and for futures phases of the project. The money coming in from the Sunfest guests will help our struggling businesses. We need more industry so we can keep our families here, but I think this is one hell of a good start,” she continued.

The CVRD and its Area I director, Klaus Kuhn, will be involved now because the development would require changes in the official community plan and zoning.

Note: if you need more information from Laketown Ranch, email markamitchell@shaw.ca. This is a different email from the one on the back of the brochure handed out Thursday.