The owners of Sproat Lake Landing resort off of Highway 4 in the Alberni Valley are hoping to expand their operations by adding cottages to their offered accommodations. But a number of Sproat Lake residents are not happy with the expansion and feel that the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) board is not listening to their concerns.
The owners of Sproat Lake Landing are applying to rezone a 1.75-hectare portion of the property from rural district to tourist commercial district in order to accommodate up to 20 cottage-style buildings as an extension of the existing hotel, restaurant and retail store. Before they accomplish this, the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District board must amend both the zoning bylaw and Sproat Lake Official Community Plan (OCP).
The first reading for this application took place back in October 2021. But during a public hearing on March 28, many Sproat Lake residents expressed opposition to the rezoning. Following this public hearing, the applicants revised their rezoning application to reduce the number of cottages from 20 down to 15.
Barbara Smith lives close to Sproat Lake Landing and says the resort has been a good neighbour for the past few years. However, she is concerned about the increase in density and thinks that 15 new cabins is still “far too many” for the area.
“These are two-bedroom cabins—that could be potentially over 80 people,” she said. “I think it could have a tremendous impact on the environment here.”
She and other neighbours say that the impact on the septic system is a “major concern,” as well as the impact on the estuary ecosystem. During the March public hearing, residents also expressed concern about the increase in traffic with both boats and vehicles. Sproat Lake Landing is located just off the highway, with access after a sharp corner. The hotel and café are located on opposite sides of an intersection, which sometimes leads to congestion near the highway access.
“When Sproat Lake Landing hosts larger events, our road is lined with parked vehicles, making the road narrow and down to single lane traffic,” said a letter to the ACRD from Brian and Rita Sowden. “Common sense leads us to conclude that we would be dealing with this type of parking situation on a daily basis.”
Chris Law, another Sproat Lake resident who is also manager of the nearby Alberni Valley Community Forest, says the property is located between two riparian areas in a community watershed, and the intensity of the development could impact either of these areas. Coho salmon, he said, are already under pressure in the Weiner Creek system, as the bay is shallow and boat traffic causes degradation to the water quality. Additional boat traffic will only make the water quality poorer, he added.
“It’s not suitable for a large-scale commercial enterprise,” he said.
Law has been trying to raise his concerns with the ACRD for months, and was “blindsided” along with other residents when he learned that the ACRD board had discussed the plans and started approval process.
At an April 13 meeting, Sproat Lake director Penny Cote wanted to deny the application, based on feedback from the surrounding residents. However, when the ACRD board is considering denying an application, the board’s policy is to defer the decision instead to allow the applicants an opportunity to respond. The decision was deferred to June 8.
On June 8, Cote made a motion to deny the application.
“I’ve thought long and hard about this and heard from the community quite strongly that they’re not in favour of this development moving forward,” she said at the time. “I support my community.”
However, Beaver Creek director John McNabb said denying the application would be “short-sighted” given the need for accommodation in the area.
“Accommodations at the lake and all around the Valley are in short supply,” he said. “To restrict the development, where jobs are concerned and where investment is concerned, I think is inappropriate.”
Staff noted that road safety and on-site sewage concerns are regulated by the province, while things like landscaping, screening, access and parking will come up later during the development permit process.
Beaufort director Tanya Shannon acknowledged the safety concerns of residents, but said she trusts those decisions to be made by the bodies of government that are in charge of them—in this case, the Ministry of Transportation and Island Health.
“I want to be supportive of things like this when they’re done in the right way,” she said. “I think staff has come up with some solutions or mitigations that addressed concerns.”
Bob Beckett voted to support Cote in her motion, while McNabb, Shannon and Dianne Bodnar voted against her motion. Beckett, McNabb and Shannon then voted in favour of the proposed application, while Cote and Bodnar voted against it.
Cote said after the vote that she was “very disappointed” by the decision.
“This is not your community, this is my community,” she said. “The residents of Sproat Lake know that area. And in that public hearing they let us know exactly how they felt about this, and it seems to me that the board is not listening.”
Staff told the board on June 8 that Sproat Lake’s OCP supports tourist accommodation expansion in the area. But Law argues that the piece of property is clearly marked residential in the Sproat Lake OCP, which was adopted in 2014 after a two-year process of public consultation. Although the OCP does support the expansion of tourist and neighbourhood services in “the West Bay area,” one of the policies also states that the regional district must “ensure that the principal use in all areas designated as residential must be residential, as specified by the zoning bylaw.”
Because the development is located within 800 metres of a controlled access highway, the Ministry of Transportation must review and sign off on the bylaw before the fourth and final reading. Three readings of the bylaw have taken place already, and the proposed amendments were scheduled to come back to the board on Wednesday, Sept. 28. In the meantime, residents are concerned that the decision could be precedent-setting when it comes to future development in rural areas.
“I think that any planning has to be thoughtful and understand the impact on the area,” said Smith. “I think it’s been very disorganized, from my perspective, and not with a great deal of understanding.”
The lack of communication, Law said, reduces the public’s ability to participate in the decisions that their elected governments make.
“This is not the way the process is supposed to work,” said Law.