Little Beach, the popular tubing destination on the Cowichan River, has been dedicated to the Cowichan Valley Regional District as public parkland.
Little Beach is the approximately 600-foot stretch of waterfront property on the river that is used as a pull-out for the thousands of tubers that are on the river every summer, and also provides year-round access for other recreational users such as fishers and paddle sport enthusiasts and serves as swift-water training grounds for local first responders.
The CVRD released a statement that Little Beach had recently been dedicated to the district as public parkland through a rezoning/subdivision application process as a five per cent park dedication requirement under the Local Government Act and community amenity contribution.
The statement said the CVRD plans to work with stakeholder groups to develop a short-term plan for 2023 that ensures on-site safety and park maintenance at Little Beach.
Ian Morrison, the CVRD director for Cowichan Lake South/Skutz Falls where Little Beach is located, said the property is vital to maintaining the recreational use of the Cowichan River for thousands of residents and tourists to the area each year, and will become a jewel of a community park in close proximity to a municipal centre.
“We are thrilled to see Little Beach formally designated as public parkland, and grateful to the former property owners for their contribution of a property that holds significant public interest and benefit,” Morrison said.
“I look forward to continuing conversations with stakeholder groups about how we can transform this park into a space that’s accessible and welcoming to all community members and user groups.”
But the former owners of Little Beach who contributed the property to the CVRD, who spent five years of frustration and personal expense trying to find their way through the maze of red tape and bureaucratic hoops at several government levels to donate the land to be used as a park, were not happy when the announcement gave what they felt was all the credit for the deal to the CVRD.
Janice Hiles said she grew up in nearby Lake Cowichan and Little Beach was her favourite swimming hole as a child.
So when she and her husband Ken acquired several parcels of land in the area in 2018, as well as Little Beach, they were more than pleased to approach the CVRD to offer Little Beach to the district as parkland as a community amenity contribution that was part of their rezoning application for the rest of their properties.
But the couple faced many complications with the CVRD as well as provincial ministries and departments as they tried to manoeuvre through the complicated process, and had to take on a lot of the costs of studies and other expenses as well, which was not easy on the pocket book for the small-time developers.
The first hurdle they had to overcome was dealing with CVRD bylaws related to the policy of the five per cent park dedication of their land, which Hiles said took a year to resolve, and she credited Ian Morrison with stepping up and helping them through the drawn-out process.
Hiles said the next dilemma was that the CVRD would not accept Little Beach as part of the Hiles’ rezoning/subdivision application for their other properties while it still had provincial covenants on it, and that took eight months to resolve.
She said it took a total of five years to complete the process.
“I would expect three of those years were directly related to trying to donate this special spot from my childhood,” Hiles said.
“We paid for riparian studies, extra surveys, extra costs because they insisted that this was designated as its own lot. I estimate we paid over $50,000 in extra costs, never mind the extra time and missing the market for selling the four lots we created.”
Hiles said the couple didn’t do it for the glory or for the money.
“We did it because it felt like a wonderful way to end our time developing and working with properties in the Cowichan Valley,” she said.
“So although the CVRD has taken all the credit for this, I know in my heart Ken and I and my family did what was right. Many people have thanked us either personally or online and know how hard we worked on this.”
A statement from the CVRD addressing the Hileses’ concerns said its announcement of the Little Beach acquisition as a park was intended to advise the public of what to anticipate in the coming summer season, and opportunities for community input on future planning/public use of the new parkland.
The statement said there was extensive media coverage last November about the extended process the Hileses were going through to complete the subdivision following a rezoning of the lands, which included acknowledgments by Ian Morrison of the appreciation and recognition of the owners for their parkland dedication commitment as part of their rezoning/subdivide application.
“Our announcement is a further acknowledgment and appreciation of the former property owners by Director Morrison,” the CVRD said.
“However, as noted, the overall focus of the release is about informing the public of this new park on the Cowichan River and what to anticipate in the coming months.”
The CVRD also pointed out that the contribution of the property was not a donation, but a legislatively required amenity contribution as part of a rezoning application.
“As a practice, the CVRD does not identify the individual property owners or developers involved in these land-use applications within their announcements and news releases,” the district said.
“As well, this parkland contribution was part of a rezoning application which saw the Hileses’ property subdivided from a single parcel into four parcels, significantly increasing the value of this property and the potential for future development.”