While boating on Harrison Lake last Saturday, I couldn’t help but admire and dream of owning one the beautiful homes and rustic cabins tucked away in various coves along the shore. As I usually do after visiting a destination within BC, I looked online to see what, if anything, was on the market and for how much.
Pouring over various listings, I noted that many of the vacation homes for sale at Harrison are off-grid and boat accessible only. What’s more, I learned that some of the more reasonably priced cabins are on leased land with varying terms and annual payments to the Crown.
As badly as I want a cabin, I’m equally hesitant about investing in a property where the lease could be cancelled with little notice or recompense. To be fair, I haven’t heard of that happening at Harrison or too many other places yet but I’m mindful that the operating environment for residents and businesses on crown land throughout BC has changed in recent years due to a number of factors, not the least of which is that land title and stewardship rights haven’t yet been sorted out vis-a-vis BC’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA).
In that context, part of my fear of purchasing a leased property is grounded in what I hear from tourism business owners who are challenged by similar situations with tenure and park-use permit (PUPs) applications and renewals.
According to a recent survey by members of the Adventure Tourism Coalition (ATC), many operators with land tenures and PUPs that have built a steady clientele, employed locals, invested heavily in lodges and equipment, and even improved the biodiversity of a place over the course of many years, are discovering that their agreements with the province are either not being renewed or reduced in length and appear likely to expire for good in the near future.
As you can appreciate, for any business operating on crown land, tenure security is foundational. Conversely, the absence of long-term contracts can seriously hamper their ability to carry on. Without tenure security, financial institutions won’t lend money to a business to help it grow and expand; operators won’t hire new staff or invest in new equipment and infrastructure; the company will have little to no resale value; and planning for future opportunities becomes a moot point.
The ATC survey also shows that frustration with the tenure process is growing. Some owners are considering folding their businesses, others are lobbying for longer terms, while a handful are operating without new tenure agreements and spending huge sums on consultation, environmental assessments, and other requirements in hopes of moving forward legally and with certainty.
Suffice it to say, the tenure situation must be resolved soon before the impact on individual businesses and the tourism sector overall becomes irreversible. To that end, TIABC, members of the Adventure Tourism Coalition and many other sector partners continue to work with the province, not only to identify the magnitude of the problem but offer solutions for the benefit of all stakeholders.
One idea that’s resurfaced recently is to establish another form of tenure for specific tourism operators (akin to a lease) that provides exclusive rights in a certain area, while allowing for a “shared with public” tenure that opens the door to broader use of the land in question while seeking to avoid further conflicts. It’s still in the early stages of consideration so stay tuned.
Just as tourism operators aren’t willing to invest in their businesses unless tenures and PUPS are protected for the long term, I’m not eager to buy a cabin on crown land where the lease is more tenuous today than in years past. In the meantime, until I find a cottage that’s affordable, accessible and secure, I’ll continue to dream of a lakeside or oceanfront property from the comfort of my boat.