cowichan bay campground development
A fence divides the popular Cowichan Estuary Trail from the proposed campground property. The sign board describes the ecological importance of the estuary. Photo by Jacqueline Ronson
Cowichan Valley

CVRD to rule on Cowichan estuary campground development

A committee has recommended approving the development despite opposition from Cowichan Tribes and community members.
Shalu Mehta November 6, 2020

On Nov. 12 the Cowichan Valley Regional District board will consider whether or not to issue a development permit for a recreational vehicle campground in the Cowichan estuary. 

The proposal, in process since 2016, came before the CVRD’s Electoral Area Services Committee in a meeting on Nov. 4. At that meeting, the committee heard statements of opposition to the project from community members and from Cowichan Tribes. However, the committee voted with seven in favour and two opposed to recommend that the CVRD board issue the development permit, subject to the approval of B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy.

The land in question is about 7.5 acres in size, located on Lochmanetz Road, close to the junction of Cowichan Bay Road and Tzouhalem Road. It is adjacent to Cowichan Tribes reserve land, the popular Cowichan Estuary Trail and a branch of the Koksilah River. The development permit seeks to upgrade the site so it can accommodate 38 recreational vehicle spaces as well as a caretaker’s building and services including washroom facilities and laundry.

cowichan bay campground development
This is a conceptual plan for the proposed RV campground. This image is a screenshot from the draft development permit, accessed via CVRD’s website.

A flurry of opposition

While many members of the public only became aware of this proposal in the days before the meeting, the committee received many letters opposing the campground, particularly on the grounds of its potential environmental and cultural impacts. Staff read letters into the public record for more than half an hour, although the public input period is typically limited to 15 minutes. 

“The Cowichan Nation does not support the proposed development,” wrote Larry George, Cowichan Tribes’ director of land and self governance, in a letter read during the meeting.

Many of the letters noted the environmental significance of the area. 

According to the Cowichan Watershed Board, the Cowichan estuary is habitat for up to 230 bird species as well as rearing habitat for salmon and three trout species. “It is important to humans as a food source, an aesthetic and recreational joy and as an industrial site,” the board’s website says.

Because the proposal is for a development permit and not a rezoning, no consultation with First Nations or the public is part of CVRD’s approval process. The board members are asked only to consider whether the proposal meets existing land use rules and policy.

Complicated land use questions

The proposal before the CVRD is complicated for many reasons. 

The owners of the property previously applied to rezone the property to allow for more extensive development. But the CVRD denied the application in 2014, explained Frank Limshue, CVRD’s manager of development services, at the committee meeting. The current proposal asks for a development permit to be issued to upgrade only the parts of the site previously used as a campground. 

The property has been used as a campground as far back as the 1980s. It is within the Agricultural Land Reserve, which normally excludes use as a campground. However, the property’s use as a campground predates the Agricultural Land Reserve, and the Agricultural Land Commission has previously ruled that the property can therefore be used as a campground. (A letter to that effect from 2017 is attached to the committee’s agenda package.)

CVRD staff therefore find the use of the site as a campground to be “legal non-conforming,” meaning that the use is allowed despite the inconsistencies with current zoning, according to a staff report. Determining the use as legal non-conforming depends on the site having been used continuously as a campground. If the site isn’t “legal non-conforming,” it is not eligible for a development permit, Limshue explained.

According to a letter from representatives of the property owners, “the Cowichan Bay Campgrounds has been in business and continually operating since 1985.” 

Blaise Salmon, CVRD’s area director for Mill Bay/Malahat (Area A), questioned the determination that the campground use is legal non-conforming, given documentation that camping pads have been removed from the property. He asked if staff would further consider and report on this question, but failed to receive support from the majority of the committee.

cowichan estuary campground
“No trespassing” signs on Lochmanetz Road discourage entrance to the campground property. Photo by Jacqueline Ronson

As of Thursday this week, the site entrance on Lochmanetz Road bears “no trespassing” signs and no indication of a campsite business. Part of the property is visible from the adjacent walking trail. There are two greenhouse-like structures that do not appear to be in operation.

What rules must the development meet?

Under the process for considering a development permit, the CVRD must consider if the proposal meets existing land use rules. The property falls within development permit areas for aquatic resource protection, sensitive lands, agricultural protection and rural character, according to the staff report. If the CVRD rejects the permit, it must give a reason that the proposal fails to meet the existing policies for these areas.

Additionally, the property falls within the provincial Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan. As a result, it is subject to review and approval by the British Columbia government. 

If the CVRD votes to approve the development permit, it will not come into effect until the proposal has also been approved by the province. 

What’s next? 

The CVRD board will consider approving the development permit at its board meeting next week, on Thursday Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m. CVRD meetings are currently taking place virtually, and are generally live-streamed to YouTube. Although the meeting is not a public hearing, there will be space for public input to be read into the record. Contact information for the area directors can be found on the CVRD website. 

Learn more: 

  • Video from this week’s committee meeting is available online. The public comment period begins about seven minutes in, lasting past the 41-minute-mark. A staff presentation on the campground proposal followed by committee discussion and voting begins one hour and 25 minutes into the video.
  • The agenda package for the committee meeting includes links to the staff report and many background documents related to the file. Click on item “R1” to see the available downloads. 
  • Some community members have started a Facebook group called Save the Cowichan Estuary where they are sharing information and links related to the campground proposal.