Teresa Bird – Black Press
The businesses and organizations of Lake Cowichan need to act now if they hope to benefit from the proposed LakeTown Ranch. That was the message from Cathy Robertson of Community Futures Cowichan to the Lake Cowichan Chamber of Commerce Sept. 15.
LakeTown Ranch is the proposed new development on 69 hectares at Meade Creek, just west of Lake Cowichan. The event facility that would be the permanent home of the annual Sunfest Country Music Festival and potentially host other events during the year.
The purpose-built facility would include a performance venue, campground and infrastructure for large crowds, potentially numbering more than 50,000 during Sunfest, which is currently held at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds in Duncan.
“LakeTown Ranch could bring incredible benefit,” said Robertson. “Or it could bring incredible havoc. Is Lake Cowichan going to lead or is Lake Cowichan going to respond?”
Robertson said Community Futures is willing to help Lake Cowichan organize a task force or committee and provide resources to help the community navigate the waters ahead.
“How do we embrace this?” posed Robertson. “How do we squeeze everything out of this we can for the local businesses? I believe the wisdom is in this room.”
Much of that wisdom, as well as questions and anecdotal information was shared in the ensuing discussion, but no one stepped forward to be part of a committee that night.
Although it will several months before any decision is made on the rezoning of the proposed site in Lake Cowichan, Robertson said a group of local business people should be starting the groundwork now as well as begin liaising with LakeTown Ranch.
Ian Morrison, regional director for Area F, explained that the next step in the rezoning process is a public meeting Sept 28 in Youbou. The new facility is in Area I. After the public meeting the proposal will go to the Area I planning council and then a staff report will be written and presented to the regional board.
“There is a fair bit of ground work to be done,” explained Morrison. “Lake Cowichan voices need to be heard at the upcoming meeting. People who are in support need to show up and express that. We want to make sure we have heard from everyone. If you can’t be there, Sunfest is looking for letters of support as soon as possible.” The Town of Lake Cowichan has sent of letter of support in principle.
Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest said he will do his part by meeting with the mayors of Pemberton, Squamish and Merritt – other music festival communities in B.C. – while attending the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention this week.
“I hope to meet with them so we can learn from their experience,” said Forrest.
Robertson also offered to connect with her colleagues in those same communities and perhaps invite them to Lake Cowichan to share their knowledge.
During the discussion at the chamber meeting, several businesses shared how they already benefit from Sunfest when it is held in Duncan, increasing their business as much as fivefold in the four days of the festival this summer.
“Greg Adams (of Sunfest), said LakeTown Ranch would be used four to 15 days max, a year,” said Forrest. “In those 15 days businesses will do so well, they will be able to keep their doors open all year.