Residents of Tofino’s Crab Apple Campground can breathe a temporary sigh of relief as the town’s municipal council added another six months to their homes’ legal lifespan last week.
The route to adding more time was a tricky one as the Local Government Act prohibits Temporary Use Permits from being renewed more than once and Crab Apple’s second TUP to operate a 45-site residential campground is set to expire Oct. 2, 2021.
Crab Apple received its first TUP in 2016 and a second in 2018 with both permits carrying a prohibition on any tourism use.
During their Aug. 24 regular meeting, council reviewed owner Mathieu Amin’s newest application for a three-year Temporary Use Permit to operate a 44-site residential campground, one site less than the current TUP allows, but they instead unanimously approved a six-month TUP for 32-sites.
That means 12 sites will be axed from the campground community, which currently consists of 13 fully-serviced sites and 31 unserviced sites as well as showers, washrooms, laundry facilities, a communal kitchen and greenhouse.
The 32-site compromise was pitched to council by the district’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers who had also suggested decreasing the term to 18-months.
“The purpose of the Temporary Use Permits was to provide a short term affordable housing option in the absence of other housing options in Tofino,” explained manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers during last week’s meeting. “This is not a bridge to future development, this is considered a Temporary Use Permit to deal with an immediate housing need in the community.”
Rodgers said the application fits within the district’s Housing Needs Assessment, noting Crab Apple sites are currently being rented from $450-$800 per month. He added though that district staff have concerns over how the campsite is operating and that any permit would be contingent on a long list of conditions being met, including a housing agreement, health permits and monthly inspections of safety equipment.
In a written report to council, Rodgers suggested an inspection of the property at 1141 Pacific Rim Highway on Aug. 3 raised concerns about smoke alarms, CO2 alarms, expired fire extinguishers, electrical cords creating fire hazards, a strong smell of sewage, health concerns in the kitchen area, multiple uninsured vehicles and unsafe storage of combustible materials.
He added signage about the duration of the TUP would need to be posted at the site so that residents moving in were not caught off guard with no time to look for alternate housing if the permit expires without renewal.
Coun. Britt Chalmers asked for clarification on why a third TUP would be available to Crab Apple when legislation prohibits them from being renewed more than once.
Rodgers explained that the Local Government Act is not clear about how much change is needed in order for a TUP be considered different from the one previously issued.
“It’s been left up to municipal staff and in this case myself to try to determine what ‘different’ looks like,” he said, noting the new TUP would be for fewer sites and a shorter time period than the prior two.
Coun. Jacky Challenger noted the “long list” of requirements placed on the Campground to come into compliance and wondered if they would all need to be met before a new TUP is issued and Coun. Cathy Thicke questioned how the district could ensure the requirements would be met.
Rodgers responded that TUPs are “difficult to enforce,” but the district can issue fines for non-compliance.
“The expectation from staff is that we’re working with business owners and landowners who are interested in following the rules that we’ve negotiated together. It is somewhat difficult to deal with business owners or landowners who decide not to follow it to the tee,” he said.
Coun. Duncan McMaster doubted compliance would ever be reached and suggested limiting the TUP term to six months to give the owner a chance to prove his doubt wrong.
“I don’t have a lot of confidence, having had history with this property, that these conditions will ever be met. I’d be a lot more in favour of a shorter term for the first TUP and then, if the conditions are met, I’d probably be happy to support a longer second TUP,” he said. “I think that’s plenty of time to meet the majority of those conditions that are set and then we could look at a two-year or maybe even three-year TUP after that.”
Coun. Tom Stere called McMaster’s proposal “intriguing” and noted his focus has been around finding solutions for the residents of Crab Apple.
“My concerns were for those individuals and the timeframes that might be available to them to seek out other potential accommodation as well as for our own initiatives through the District of Tofino to come to fruition,” he said referencing the district’s affordable housing projects underway at Sharp Road and District Lot 114.
Thicke said she was hesitant to approve the TUP until all the conditions were met, but was willing to give the six-month term a try as long as a close eye could be kept on the campground’s compliance.
“We’ve been around this block quite a few times and I personally do not have the confidence that I had in the beginning in 2016 that we were going forward in the right direction,” she said. “I just do not feel good about allowing people to live in completely unsafe and unhygienic conditions to be perfectly honest. I don’t think it behooves the district to condone this and I don’t think it’s in the best interests of the people who are living there.”