Despite nearby residents urging them not to, Tofino’s municipal council legalized an illegal campground in an effort to tackle its seasonal housing concerns.
The owners of 1141 Pacific Rim Highway were granted a two-year temporary permit to operate the campground, which council acknowledged has been running illegally for the past three years, during an Aug. 23 meeting.
The district’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers said, under the temporary permit, the campground would not be available to anyone planning to stay less than 30 days and would allow for a maximum of 45 sites and 70 people. The permit does not mandate any specific rates for the campground to charge. Prior to granting the permit, council reviewed four letters from area residents asking for the campground to be shut down rather than legalized.
“With the influx of ‘campers’ on that property over the last couple of years, we’ve noticed an increase of noise at night and intoxicated people partying at all hours,” wrote Georgina Valk. “We have enough loafers milling around this area and the ‘campers’ that are squatting there will only increase if this permit is granted…I’m all about affordable housing for Tofitians, but this type of set up is unsanitary, unruly and unsafe.”
Marc Valk suggested the unlicensed campground had brought negative consequences.
“Very unsafe conditions are brewing in this area,” he wrote. “There is already enough people pooping along Hellesen who sleep illegally along the road.”
Tony Dixon said the area was crowded enough.
“The last thing we need is a large low-rent campsite across the street,” he wrote.
Michael and Wendy Amrhein said the campground’s activity has led to increased noise and traffic and that legalizing it could kill the credibility of local laws.
“I realize that Council has turned a blind eye this summer to such things as illegal camping on property due to the difficult challenge to find legitimate and viable solutions to seasonal housing for workers,” they wrote. “But, to agree to a permit being issued to what is illegal seems as if we are not living on the west coast but the Wild West where anything goes and rules and regulations can be twisted, ignored, changed or revised, modified or altered without full consideration as to how it might impact taxpayers and residents.”
Coun. Dorothy Baert acknowledged these concerns but said the district must find affordable housing somewhere.
“This is what needs to happen right now,” she said. “We know that, for a number of people in town, the growth of the community is a challenge period. But, we also know that housing in that density is going to happen somewhere.”
Coun. Duncan McMaster wondered why the campground’s owners had come forward “asking for a permit when they’ve been operating this campsite for three years,” but said he was “reluctantly” in support.
“I don’t like legalizing things that have been operating illegally,” he said.
Coun. Greg Blanchette said he supported legalizing the campground “given that it basically has existed for a while and the impacts are well known and don’t seem to be that grievous,” but added vehicle traffic should be kept to a minimum.
“I am sensitive to the traffic concerns and I hope the campers will be encouraged to use more bicycles than cars when they’re going to and from work,” he said.
Coun. Al Anderson also cited the campground’s history as a reason for support.
“My understanding is that it’s being run fairly well. There’s been minimal amount of complaints about the operation even though it doesn’t conform with the zoning,” he said adding legalizing the campground would show support for the town’s seasonal worker population.
“It is an opportunity to stick our toes in the water on this and test it out as a temporary use.”
Mayor Josie Osborne said she was wary of the site’s ongoing illegal use and of the letters of opposition council had received towards granting the permit, though she noted no formal noise complaints had been lodged against the campground.
“With respect to the fact that we all acknowledge that this has been going on, that is challenging. That’s really difficult for council to deal with; certainly it is for me to deal with,” she said.
“It would provide, and I want to really emphasize this, a very well managed, seasonal worker campground at the cost or expense of some of the local residents that are going to be impacted by the change…It’s probably in the community’s best interest to take this for a test drive and see how well it can be run.”
Council unanimously agreed to approve the two-year temporary permit.
During the meeting’s open question period, the Westerly asked why the campground, which had been operating in contravention of its zoning restrictions, was issued a permit while the Tofino Travellers Guesthouse had its business license suspended the day before due to operating in contravention of its zoning restrictions.
Coun. Al Anderson responded the difference was in their willingness to comply with local laws.
“What we looked at yesterday, was a situation that has a long history of complaints and that did not react to any of those complaints to move towards compliance,” he said.
“Today, we saw one that had little or no complaints and was completely moving towards complying with our bylaws. So, there’s a big difference in my opinion. One was trying to come towards compliance and one dug their heels in.”