Public to have say on new Sunfest venue

Cowichan Lake residents and anyone else with something to say about the proposed site for Sunfest will get their chance Monday, Sept. 28.

Cowichan Lake residents and anyone else with something to say about the proposed site for Sunfest will get their chance Monday, Sept. 28.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District is hosting a public meeting at the Youbou Hall, starting at 7 p.m.

Lake Town Ranch — the name for the new development, located on the Youbou Highway at Meade Creek — will be more than just a place to hold the huge country music festival.

The development group is asking for zoning changes that would also allow a campsite that would run throughout the summer and also permit smaller festivals to operate on the site as well.

In announcing the session, Mike Tippett, the CVRD’s community and regional planning manager, said, “There is considerable public interest in this application. Many in the community first discovered the application through the posting of the notice of development application sign [at the Meade Creek site] in early July.”

Then, on Aug. 20, the applicants hosted an information session on the site, with more than 250 people turning out to learn more.

“While it was intended primarily as an open house, it was also a bit of an impromptu public meeting. It was at this point that [CVRD] staff felt that an early public meeting inside a building with a sound system would be appropriate,” Tippett said.

The Lake Town Ranch group has already presented a lot of information, both to the public and the CVRD, about the studies they’ve conducted about what effect moving Sunfest would have on the rural location, which is part of Area I (Youbou/Meade Creek).

However, according to Tippett’s preliminary report, prepared for the Sept. 28 meeting, there are some concerns that need addressing either immediately or soon.

A traffic assessment prepared for the Lake Town Ranch application states that pre-construction of traffic lanes at the site and speedy electronic check-ins should ensure there are no long lines at Meade Creek, but Tippett highlighted other possible problems.

“There would be considerable on-site congestion at the end of the concerts, although that is not expected to have major off-site impacts. One imagines that the stop sign where Youbou Road intersects Highway 18 may experience a considerable tailback, although the traffic assessment doesn’t mention it,” Tippett said.

CVRD staffers will also be asking that the new property be included in the Cowichan Lake Fire Services Area “and that the extension of the fire protection boundary be confirmed prior to the final adoption of any amendment bylaw.”

Tippett also noted that the CVRD needs to see if arrangements have been made with the Lake Cowichan RCMP for adequate policing “since evidently special events such as these put a significant strain on smaller police detachments.”

Another concern is that, at present, the Meade Creek site is not serviced with community water, Tippett said.

“The nearest community water service is in the Town of Lake Cowichan,” he said, adding that the developers have said a well will be developed on the site for fire suppression requirements and that patron needs for drinking water will be met by bottled water.

The subject land is zoned Forest Resource F-1. In order to give consideration to this proposal, “a new zone will have to be created because there is not a suitable zone presently in the bylaw.”

Because of its somewhat unique zoning needs the site needs special considerations, such as separate rules to cover both regular and festival camping, Tippett said.

Lake Cowichan business community excited

Meanwhile, members of the Lake Cowichan business community are already looking at ways to prepare if/when Sunfest and its thousands of people arrive on their doorstep.

A meeting of the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, Sept. 16 with featured speaker Community Futures’ general manager Cathy Robertson and promising a discussion about the business impact of the new development at Meade Creek, drew a full house.

Robertson spoke only briefly herself, saying that while the impact of the festival moving to the Cowichan Lake area “could be huge”, it also needed to be the subject of “a focussed conversation” among the businesses in the area.

She said that there are many, many ways that the area could boost local economic development and while Community Futures is not primarily a lending organization, there are ways that it can help facilitate local efforts.

A lively discussion among those attending the meeting brought forward some interesting ideas.

Several Lake Cowichan businesses who had prepared for August 2015’s long weekend and Sunfest said they were still hard pressed to keep up.

Orka Adventures, a tube-rental outfit that offered 14-trips-a-day shuttle service to and from the festival to Lake Cowichan, reported being extremely busy all weekend.

At Lake Cowichan Country Grocer, even though they knew from the year before that the hot weather would draw big numbers away from Sunfest campsites at Cowichan Exhibition Park to cool off at the lake and on the river, and had planned ahead, they were still nearly run off their feet during the big weekend, according to Jenn Pollner and Jo-Anne Pimlott.

Sonja Nagel of the Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce said that at Cowichan Commons mall, stores like Canadian Tire had their busiest days ever during Sunfest and that at Wal-Mart, it was reported that the aisles carrying such party supplies as bags of chips were regularly stripped clean by eager Sunfest shoppers.

Robertson was delighted to hear these reports, urging the business people to set up a task force.

She also suggested that if there are empty store fronts or locations in Lake Cowichan, there might be ways to encourage pop up stores.

“You could even rent out spaces for reefer trucks,” she said, urging the business owners to “throw all your assets on the table” so a combined group could look at them with new eyes.

Chamber member Catherine Nahirnick said the business community needs to be proactive to take advantage of offers, like those from Sunfest honcho Greg Adams, to hire local contractors and suppliers for the festival whenever possible.

Others talked about the need to find out from towns like Ladysmith, which hosts a huge crowd annually for the Christmas Light-Up, how they are managing.

Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest said he would be networking at the Union of BC Municipalities convention [Sept. 21-25], talking with other mayors of small communities like Squamish and Pemberton, who also host big festivals, so as to gather advice from them.

Forrest said that in August the big festival in Squamish “pumped $35 million through that community in just three days.”

Judith Quinlan said she’d already suggested to Adams that a shuttle to the weekly market in Honeymoon Bay from Sunfest would be worthwhile.

Another suggestion was that parking could become one of the bigger problems to deal with, because it’s already tight in Lake Cowichan on that weekend

One suggested solution was that there might be ways to open up temporary pay parking lots as sources of revenue to the town or individuals.

It was also noted that there might be other opportunities opening up because there is only one tow truck in the district and so far only a limited number of beds for people who don’t wish to camp.