A Cultus Lake business owner is worried she is being squeezed out of Cultus Lake Park, after being hit with almost a 700 per cent increase to the base lease rate for 2014, in addition to proposed rate hikes for on-site caretaker suites.
Wendy Croshaw, owner of Funland and Frosty's Ice Cream, located across and over from the Cultus Lake Water Park, said the caretaker suite increases will cost her more than $20,000 on top of a base lease rate she described as "outrageous."
The Funland-Frosty's owners transformed what were once riding stables into a children's theme park back in 2002, she said.
"From the beginning of our development, which was a huge undertaking both physical and financial, we encountered security issues," Croshaw said.
That necessitated building caretakers suites so that they would be a deterrent to theft, vandalism and other property crime, which was rampant.
"We were our own solution to our off-season security issues," she said, citing auto theft, vandalism and nuisance incidents.
Over the years, the rates went up, but the relationship between the business and park board was also tested.
The business owners filed a suit in B.C. Supreme Court in response to the park board attempting to find the Funland operation "non-conforming" and in "breach of land use."
"In July 2014 our consent dismissal order was filed and we won our case," Croshaw said, adding that the legal battle cost the business owners $6000.
"That's a lot of ice cream, and I have no idea what going to court cost the park board."
This summer they hosted Dinotown on the site and enjoyed "a favourable response" from customers.
"Unfortunately, only days after we ended our season, the (Park) Board delivered a motion (passed by the board) that will attempt not only to raise my base lease rent by 700 per cent but they have asked an appraiser commissioned in April 2014 to provide a rental rate for the two security/caretaker suites on our leased property."
The result was a proposed rate of $9600 per year for the secondary suite that her in-laws live in and $12000 per year for the primary suite that the owners live in.
That's an extra $21600 per year.
"That's in addition to the outrageous amount of base lease rent that the Board is now attempting to charge us for a seasonal business in a very seasonal area," Croshaw said.
She said they're just trying to make a go of it.
"It is difficult not to wonder if the board is trying to squeeze us out, but we are encouraged by our community that are starting to speak out against the actions of this Board."
She suggested this scenario could become election fodder next month.
"The thing is when you are negotiating, you don't kick someone in the head. That's not negotiating. That's bullying."
Park board chair Sacha Peter acknowledged they had hired a professional appraiser to valuate the Funland owner's lease.
When a long-term leaseholder exercises the option to renew at Cultus Lake Park, there is a clause that requires both parties to come to agreement on the lease value.
"When there is no agreement, there is an option to go to arbitration," the park board chair said.
The appraiser crunched the numbers, using similar or comparable locations in the Chilliwack area, to bring the lease to fair market value, Peter said.
"They came up with a number that is significantly higher than what they have been paying in the past," he said.
The owners paid a much lower base lease rent from 2007 to 2012. The latest proposed increase came as part of the renewal process.
"Clearly there is contractual dispute here. But we do have an appraised value to work with," he said. "I think it's fair to say the leaseholder has received very good value."
He said he could neither confirm nor deny that the base lease rate was increased by up to 700 per cent.
"Negotiations are ongoing," added Peter.
The park board chair added that he was "disappointed" the business owner chose to try to negotiate the matter through the press.
"They received very good value for what they paid," he repeated. "Ideally we would like to come to some sort of agreement, without having to go to arbitration."