A Save Stotan Falls Facebook page has generated a groundswell of support to keep the popular swimming hole and hiking area open to the public, even though the property is privately owned.
Nanaimo-based 3L Developments wants to construct homes and develop trails at the confluence of the Puntledge and Browns rivers. However, the Comox Valley Regional District says the project does not jibe with the Regional Growth Strategy which guides growth in the Valley over the next 20 years. The district board has rejected an offer from 3L to purchase the property, prompting the owner to enforce No Trespassing signs.
“I don’t think they’re ever going to stop people from going,” said Kyle Bourquin, who started the page along with Charlotte Comley. “People have been going there for the last 100 years. They (3L) knew it was zoned as rural when they bought it.”
Recently, Bourquin and a few friends were asked to leave the area by two men in a 3L Development truck who threatened to call police if they didn’t comply. It was the first time he has ever been asked to leave the property.
A caretaker now lives onsite.
“If they’re trespassing obviously he’ll tell them to move on,” 3L spokesman Kabel Atwall said. “Fencing will go up so it’ll make it even more definitive as to what’s private and public.”
The company has closed the area because of potential liability issues.
“We were willing to let people use the property while things (negotiations) were moving forward,” Atwall said.
Bourquin doubts fencing, signage or the presence of a caretaker will keep people from enjoying Stotan Falls.
“It’s a longtime favourite of the people in this place,” he said. “I learned to swim there. All of our friends, all of our families, even people who don’t live here, when they come back it’s one of the first places they go to.”
Comley, who grew up near Forbidden Plateau, feels the situation is “ironic” because the falls attract visitors to the Valley and help boost the economy.
3L has blocked traffic indefinitely by closing a gate on the Duncan Bay Main road.
“It’s not coming down,” Atwall said.
“It’s ridiculous,” Comley said, noting motorists have been using the road for 60-plus years.
Bourquin said the closure adds 20 minutes commuting time for motorists trying to get from one side of the gate to the other.
“Now it’s a huge loop you have to do,” he said, noting a “significant outcry” on the page about the inaccessible road.
Bourquin feels the two sides need to reach an agreement “because nobody will ever stop going there.
“It would be ideal if they would turn it into a park. There’s already good trails going through there.”
Bourquin and Comley are attempting to initiate a petition opposing the proposed development.
The Facebook page, www.facebook.com/SaveStotanFalls, had generated upwards of 3,700 likes by Monday.
The land in question covers about 153 hectares, extending from the Inland Highway north and eastward to the river confluence. It includes Bull Island and is dissected by the logging road.
The CVRD board declined 3L’s conditional offer to buy the land for $9 million, citing public opposition to urban residential development near Stotan Falls and a lack of funds.
Atwall said the company had proposed another alternative in-camera.
“They could have had it at no cost and they chose not to,” he said.
The company could apply to subdivide, or for a zoning or Official Community Plan amendment. The CVRD, however, says it has never received a formal application from 3L to amend the OCP and rezone the property.
Last year, the district purchased 5.5 hectares as public parkland from 3L for $379,000, up river from the subject property. The board would need to consider whether municipalities and electoral areas are interested in acquiring the property for park purposes. If there was interest, a referendum would be needed.
A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) bulletin regarding 3L Developments and Stotan Falls has been posted at www.comoxvalleyrd.ca.