When Janice and Ken Hiles bought 20 acres of land close to the Cowichan River in 2018 in an effort to subdivide and develop a portion of it, they had no idea about the wall of bureaucracy and red tape at many levels of government they would have to face.
The couple’s problems began when they approached the Cowichan Valley Regional District and offered to donate Little Beach and another section of their property on the other side of Greendale Road as parkland as a community amenity contribution that was part of their rezoning application for the rest of the property.
Little Beach is the approximately 600-foot stretch of waterfront property on the Cowichan River that is used as a pull-out for the thousands of tubers that are on the river every summer.
Since then, Janice said the couple has been jumping through bureaucratic hoops dealing with the many rules, regulations, departments and people at the CVRD, Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Ministry of Forests, and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to donate the property, and the issue is still not resolved.
“It’s been a nightmare trying to give away this waterfront property and we can’t move forward with our plans for our property until this is resolved,” she said. “It’s been financially awful for us having to pay for all the studies, including a snow avalanche study if you can believe it, as well as the many surveys and other work that was required, and now we’re also dealing with the fact that interest rates are going up and the price of lots are going down.”
Janice said the couple thought they were finally close to completing everything that was required from the CVRD and the province when the Ministry of Forests informed them that a map indicating water licences in the area it had provided them was incorrect, and the work required of them regarding the licences needed to be corrected.
“That was two weeks ago and we’re letting our surveyors and lawyers deal with it,” she said.
“It’s all just been unbelievable.”
The Ministry of Forests replied in a statement that it does not regulate access agreements between private landowners, and that the establishment of easements for these water licences was a recommendation to the Ministry of Transportation for their subdivision review, but not a requirement.
Ian Morrison, the CVRD’s director for Cowichan Lake South/Skutz Falls that includes the Hiles’ property, acknowledged that a lot had gone wrong with the couple’s efforts to donate Little Beach to the CVRD at many different government levels.
He said one would think that the process to donate parkland as a gift to the CVRD would have gone much more quickly and easily.
“The challenges [the Hiles] have faced were almost insurmountable and all the variables along their path have taken much longer to deal with than they thought,” Morrison said.
“A lot of the problems had to do with staffing issues, bureaucracy and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. They even had to do an avalanche study in an area where there is never enough snow to even consider avalanches.”
Morrison said, as an area director, he has some influence to try to move these processes along within the CVRD, but he has no authority at other government levels other than to encourage district staff to follow up on files with senior levels of government.
“The surveys and other work is done so what’s left to do on this file should be automatic and just needs to be signed off,” he said.
Morrison said that he has concerns that small-time developers like the Hiles may be dissuaded from applying for projects in the district if they have to face such a wall of red tape.
“These folks are relatively sophisticated, but without their level of expertise in these matters, this category of developers will likely disappear,” he said.