Residents are once again expressing concerns about the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s Temporary Use Bylaw in Area E (Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora) after the promoters of a successful music festival have applied for a three-year permit to hold their event on an Irvine Drive property.
While concerns have been raised in the past about the Rock of the Woods festival itself — chiefly regarding noise, traffic and environmental impact — residents are now turning their questions to the Temporary Use Permit (TUP) process itself. Because the property where the festival has been held the last two years is zoned residential, a special event permit is required for the four days of the year when it takes place.
“What the real issue is, is temporary use permits — the development, the implementation, and importantly the enforcement and review of that permit,” Sunrise Road resident Susan Kaufmann told last Tuesday’s Electoral Area Services meeting. “What we feel has been lost in this process is that this is an issue of land use and zoning. Temporary use permits should not be confused with the support of any particular event. If you based this topic solely on supporting those events, and not on land use, we would have events popping up everywhere and the inherent danger is that the land use and zoning bylaw regulations would become meaningless.”
Directors were asked at Tuesday’s meeting to determine if the festival’s three-year permit for 2016 to 2018 should go before a public hearing, which the directors agreed to, following a recommendation from staff.
“We are happy going to a public meeting,” festival director Dave Bain said. “We hope the difference comes clear between supporters and non-supporters.”
Kaufmann told the committee she was speaking on behalf of a group of 12 residents who felt marginalized by a process that they feel has allowed general public opinion to override the concerns of those who live closest to the property.
A public meeting held last January regarding Rock of the Woods’s 2015 permit attracted nearly 200 people, the majority — including several who live near the property — speaking in favour, although some nearby residents felt drowned out.
Kaufmann asked the directors at Tuesday’s meeting to deny the permit application and begin a revision of the TUP process, but that suggestion wasn’t pursued.
In contrast to the 12 people Kaufmann said she was representing, Bain said that 49 people who live in the immediate area — on Irvine, Sunrise Road, Crescent Drive and Omega Road — accepted the festival’s offer of free tickets to the 2015 event, which organizers told them in advance would be taken as an expression of support for the festival.
The 2015 permit for Rock of the Woods was the first time the new TUP process, which is unique to Area E, was tried out. Opponents to the festival have been unimpressed so far.
“In regards to the Rock Of The Woods permit, it is our opinion that the system has been manipulated to the end of one organization and one property owner and that is what is the basis here. It is one property owner that is having an effect on many others in our neighbourhood,” Kaufmann said.
CVRD director of planning and development Rob Conway acknowledged that the TUP bylaw isn’t perfect, but noted that festival organizers are completely within their right to apply for a three-year permit. He does acknowledge a loophole, however.
“The local government act allows temporary use permits to be issued up to three years and they can be renewed for a further three years but there’s nothing in the act that stops somebody from applying again,” Conway said. “There is an issue around ‘temporary’ and it’s something I think the directors are going to need to consider with the current request and possibly with future requests. Is it appropriate to be allowing a temporary use to be continued on for a long period of time at a particular location? I would say that the act does allow that. It is possible for local government to issue permits on an ongoing basis but it does get at the issue as to whether this is compromising the zoning and whether this is appropriate use of the land to be authorizing uses through temporary use permits rather than looking at a more permanent solution such as zoning if there is going to be an ongoing use there.”
Area E director Alison Nicholson, a noted and vocal opponent of the event, has scheduled a public meeting for Area E residents on Sept. 29 “about the possible benefits and potential impacts related to the issuance of Temporary Use Permits in the Cowichan/Koksilah Official Community Plan Area.”
Kaufmann expressed concerns that the festival poses a fire risk to the area, something that has been expressed in the past and addressed repeatedly by organizers. The fire-prevention and -suppression plan was praised by the Sahtlam fire department, which was on site regularly over the festival weekend. Other aspects of the festival, such as security and care for the environment have also been praised. According to Bain, there were no complaints about the 2015 event, something CVRD inspection and enforcement manager Brian Duncan attested to.
“Bylaw enforcement staff did attend the Rock of the Woods this past summer,” he told the area directors last week. “We were there all four days. Friday and Saturday night we were there from midnight until about two in the morning recording decibels and nothing was above the norm. I went out myself Thursday afternoon to check the traffic coming in and out. It wasn’t excessive. It was very well controlled at the entrance and Sunday afternoon I went out late in the afternoon. By that time most people had left and the Rock of the Woods staff was in the process of removing posters and cleaning up the roadside and as I drove out there was no visible signs of litter or anything of that. It went over pretty well from what I can see,” he said.
The next meeting regarding Rock of the Woods’s permit application is expected to be held in late October. A venue has not been determined.
Neighbour Janice MacAlister hopes an amicable solution can be found.
“It’s causing huge discord in this neighbourhood as well as angst and marginalization for the people who live here,” she said. “They’re feeling bullied and they’re feeling that nobody is listening to them — that they’re being invalidated.”
—With files from Sarah Simpson