Another battle may be brewing at Cultus Lake.
Cultus Lake Park Board has been deliberating on whether or not to grant its commercial leaseholders 12-month or 6-month occupancy of their caretaker/security suites.
In a bid to streamline the rules so both waterfront and non-waterfront businesses would be able to protect their property from vandals or thieves, the board passed a resolution in April making caretaker suites a year-round option.
The commercial leaseholders would pay $1,650 each per year with 12-month occupancy of the residential suites.
There are five businesses in the Cultus Lake Park with built-in residential components, known as caretaker/security suites. Two of the five are waterfront commercial leaseholders, including Beach Buoy Leisure Rentals and Main Beach Boat Rentals.
Park board meeting minutes show that commissioner Owen Skonberg has been against the very idea of residential suites contained within lakefront ventures dating back to 2005 — even before he was elected as a Park Board commissioner.
Skonberg stood up during question period at a meeting in July 2005, and asked questions about the lease transfer at Main Beach Boat Rentals, “and expressed concern that a residence not be allowed within this commercial building,” according to the minutes.
Part of his concern, he later said was that it was a “give-away” to the waterfront businesses at an annual commercial lease rate of $1,650.
Fast forward to 2013, and that effort continues.
Led by Commissioner Skonberg, the matter was first brought back in May of this year for reconsideration by the Park Board, but it failed to get a majority vote.
Some are now saying this is where the matter should have stayed.
Last month, Commissioner Skonberg brought it back again for reconsideration — again, but this time it passed with commissioners Skonberg, Charlotte Hall, Sacha Peter and Carleton Toews voting in favour of reopening the matter, and reverting to six-month occupancy for the two waterfront businesses.
Park Board Chair Sacha Peter said the real focus of the board was on the lease rates, not residential occupancy, and the second reconsideration motion was aimed at that clarification.
The earlier motion was “ambiguous” and until the Park Board negotiates “definitively signed leases,” with its commercial leaseholders, that ambiguity will remain a factor, Peter said.
Asked if the waterfront businesses were being discriminated against as a result, the chair quickly rejected that notion.
“That’s false. What occurred about a decade ago is that staff and board made these nebulous agreements with some commercial leaseholders. The root cause is that it was never written down in a definitive contract. We’re dealing with the fallout from a lack of definition. It is our hope we will be able to enter into properly negotiated leases.”
But Main Beach Boat Rental owner Geoff Kosub said he didn’t agree.
This dispute over caretaker suite lease conditions, coupled with the impact of rising parking fees at Main Beach, means his business is “really suffering.”
Losing 12-month occupancy rights also hurts his ability to protect the building and docks during the winter, and the board also loses the extra security of having a pair of eyes trained on the park, as well as funds from the reduced lease rates.
“After settling a five-year lawsuit with the Park Board in 2009, my business reopened with such promise,” he said. “It has unfortunately turned into a complete nightmare again.”
The way the rules work now, only two Park Board commissioners are voted in by Cultus Lake residents, while five of the seven are elected by Chilliwack residents.
“Part of the problem is there is no political accountability in the current set-up,” he said.
“It makes no sense,” said Kosub. “This is just further proof that we need more than two of the seven Park Board members voted in locally.”
Commissioner Bob McCrea said when the Park Board finds itself faced with an ambiguity, as alleged in this case by the chair, it might be the best option to obtain an adjudicated opinion on the matter, rather than forging ahead.
Chair Peter may have erred in his interpretation by allowing the matter to be reconsidered by the board again, McCrea said, after the first reconsideration vote failed to get a majority.
But Peter said any commissioner can bring a resolution back for reconsideration by the board, but that there are limits as to what can be reconsidered.
McCrea said all five owners should be allowed to have 12-month occupancy to protect their businesses.
“They are all willing to pay for it. If you own a business in a remote area, you should be able to do what you can do for security. To cherry-pick this way, and give some security to some leaseholders and not others, is unjust, I believe.”