DAWSON CREEK, B.C. – The Peace River Regional District is considering legal action against an RV campground found operating without permits in Pouce Coupe last year.
Directors discussed the situation at their January 27th board meeting, with a 30-day deadline set to commence a civil suit in Supreme Court, if the RNN Rentals property at 437 Briar Ridge Road does not come into bylaw compliance. A motion to defer was suggested, but failed.
Twenty-two RV sites, a food truck, a rental shack, workshops, washroom facilities, convenience store, restaurant, and other business related buildings were found on the property, which remains in the Agricultural Land Reserve and not zoned for commercial use. Thirteen unpermitted structures must be removed from the property to comply with PRRD bylaws, including electrical and sewer infrastructure.
Owners Doreen Shadow and Lyle Pringle sought two exemptions from the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), but were refused in April 2021 and July 2020, after ceasing development in November 2019, when they learned of the ALR status.
According to their rulings, the ALC panel denied the application because the campground is not an approved use under the ALC act, and was built without ALC approval or the required PRRD building permits.
“The Panel finds that the Applicants, through the exercise of due diligence, could have determined that their property is located in the PRRD and the ALR, and that lack of awareness of the regulations cannot be used to justify non-compliance,” wrote Panel Chair, Janice Tapp, in their July 16, 2020 ruling.
In their April 9th, 2021 ruling, the ALC panel decided that a 10.7-hectare exclusion request by the owners wouldn’t be appropriate, despite leaving a campground green space of 7.1 hectares for gardening. Music festivals and camping are not consistent with Section 6 of the ALC act, and would not preserve agricultural use if allowed, the panel said.
Furthermore, they found that the owners’ proposal to dump shale and gravel onto the property to create RV sites was not properly justified, and “would have a negative impact on the ALR”.
Reconsideration was asked by the owners, but refused again by the ALC on October 27th, 2021, for the reasons stated in the previous two rulings.
An adjudication meeting was held on Jan. 20 for the PRRD, with one bylaw ticket being cancelled, as the adjudicator felt the owners were actively attempting to fix the ALR zoning issue, but did violate PRRD bylaw by not checking the permit status of the structures.
PRRD CAO Shawn Dahlen maintains that the ticket shouldn’t have been cancelled, claiming the adjudicator acted outside of their authority.
“The adjudicator removed the ticket fine for the zoning bylaw. Now, in my experience, that adjudicator, unless there’s been an improperly followed process, or a fine that doesn’t align with bylaw, they have no authority to remove that fine,” said Dahlen.
Directors approved a judicial review of the adjudication during the January 27th meeting, for the purpose of making clear the authority of adjudicators who work with the PRRD.
Area D alternate director Mark Rogers says he met with the landowners and advocated for compassion, noting they should have been invited as a delegation, chalking the matter up to a misunderstanding due to cultural differences.
“They had purchased the land without the knowledge of it being in the ALR, not in knowledge of what the land use could be, because they had looked at what was going at that property for the past several years,” said Rogers.
He added that the couple had recruited a third party to handle their correspondence with the ALR and PRRD.
Shadow is of First Nations heritage, with ancestry to Chief of the Beaver Nation, Pooscapee, after which the village is named, as there was once an indigenous lodge nearby their property and had planned to host cultural activities at the campground.
In a November 15th, 2021, email to Premier Horgan, the Ministries of Agriculture and Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, MLA Mike Bernier, and the PRRD, Shadow noted they were completely unaware of the property’s ALR status when they purchased it in 2015 through a private sale.
“At no time during the purchase of the property, nor within the year or two after were we notified that the property, we paid for was part of the ALC, nor were we notified that anything we did on this property was restricted,” wrote Shadow.
She further added they were given the go-ahead by the Village of Pouce Coupe to run the campsite, and became aware that the property was not within the village and under ALR status after being denied a liquor license.
Erin Price, PRRD Bylaw Enforcement Officer, says the current bylaw only allows home-based businesses for properties under 1.8 hectares, and from an approved list of business types, and noted the property is 17.8 hectares, well beyond the approved size.
“There’s been nothing done that I know of to bring the property into compliance, there are some things that the landowner was hoping to get permission from the ALC, so when those applications were in process, I did put the enforcement on hold,” said Price. “The difficulty is that even those applications to the ALC did not ask permission for all of the things that they’re doing.”
Taylor Mayor Rob Fraser says he understands the owners’ frustrations with the ALC and the bylaw process, but says the PRRD needs to back staff in the enforcement.
“Ultimately, we are the body that decides which bylaws are going to be enforced, and whether they’re going to be enforced, and we’ve got staff that does that for us, and we need to support our staff,” said Fraser.