A golf course on the outskirts of Port Alberni has gotten into trouble for hosting too many RVs.
The owner of Hollies Executive Golf Course, located on Alberni Highway, has submitted an application to the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) board for a temporary use permit in order to operate seasonal campsites.
In May 2017, the ACRD issued a temporary use permit to Hollies for a maximum of 22 camping sites. The permit lapsed in May 2020, and the owner failed to contact the ACRD to renew it. Only when ACRD bylaw staff became involved did the owner submit an application to renew.
During a visit to the property on March 29, 2021, general manager of planning and development Mike Irg said he counted 31 RVs on site (one of which was owned by the applicant). ACRD staff have noted that the campsites are not clearly marked and delineated.
“The intent was it was going to be operated as a seasonal campsite, and certainly things have changed in the last 15 months with COVID-19,” said Irg. “As staff, we were very concerned when we saw the expansion of the site.”
The owner of Hollies, Heather Powell, attended the board meeting virtually on Wednesday. She explained that she and her partner have been in the RV business since 2005 and currently run two other RV resort parks outside of the Alberni Valley. During these last 16 years, Powell said, there has been a “massive transition” from seasonal use of RVs to full-time RV living.
She explained that the demographic at Hollies is made up of retired or semi-retired people living in their RVs or working professionals who have had to relocate for work but haven’t been able to find housing in the area.
When Powell took over the site, she made a number of significant upgrades, including a new septic system. All RVs on the site must be full-service and cannot be older than 10 years old.
She acknowledged that there are currently 28 campers on the site, instead of the 22 that are permitted.
“We were just trying to help out people in the local area that were desperate for a place to be,” she said.
The temporary use permit, she added, lapsed at the “height” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It lapsed and I wasn’t paying attention,” she said. “I had every full intention to apply for the proper rezoning process. All I can do is apologize for that.”
Powell said that she does plan to apply to rezone the area eventually as an actual RV park. A rezoning application differs from a temporary use permit because it is permanent.
Directors were torn on whether or not to issue the temporary use permit. Although there is a need for RV campsites in the community, directors were concerned about the fact that Hollies has not been complying with the conditions of the temporary use permit.
“I have two trains of thought here,” said Sproat Lake director Penny Cote. “One is that we need housing and this could work. The other one says that the temporary use permit is not suitable for this application.”
Both Beaver Creek director John McNabb and Cherry Creek director Dianne Bodnar said they have received complaints from residents about the appearance of the unofficial RV park.
“I think it’s viable if it’s done right—it just isn’t done right,” said McNabb.
“We are in an extreme housing crisis in this community,” said Port Alberni director and mayor Sharie Minions. “Whatever action we take, we need to take really thoughtfully. That said…we need to ensure that every application that we do approve we’re careful in approving and that they’re in compliance.”
She suggested that this kind of an issue needs public input.
The board agreed on June 23 to refer the application back to ACRD staff, who will develop a new temporary use permit for the site with conditions. Staff will also consult with Island Health and Cherry Creek Volunteer Fire Department to ensure that health and safety concerns are dealt with.
ACRD staff will bring back a report with all the requirements for a rezoning and the public input that will take place.