Road toll sprouts from bitter land dispute in Comox Valley

A developer has installed a toll booth and imposed fees for driving on his road and using his wilderness land in a remote area west of Courtenay.

Cars are charged $2, large trucks $5. A recreational pass is $5 per day per person.

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The booth and fees highlight a years-long impasse between 3L owner David Dutcyvich and the Comox Valley Regional District.

A staffed orange toll booth monitors traffic on 3L’s section of the Duncan Bay Main Line Road. Local residents, commercial trucks and people heading to Forbidden Plateau commonly use this road as a shortcut.

Dutcyvich dreams of developing his land into 740 single-family lots, with about 190 acres provided for a park, including the popular Stotan Falls on the Puntledge River.

He also owns the rights to the river bed under the Puntledge River. Along with the falls, large and small potholes filled with warm spa-like water in the summer, lure residents to that spot.

The regional district maintains that its regional growth plan does not allow for the level of housing density that Dutcyvich is proposing in that area. Rather, it says growth is to be focused on the Comox, Courtenay and Cumberland areas.

This is the latest B.C. example of an issue centring on whether citizens have a right to use private wilderness land.

A decision is pending in a Supreme Court of B.C. case between the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club and Douglas Lake Ranch near Merritt. Club members maintain they have the right to access the land to reach lakes and fish on the ranch, which put up locked gates years ago.

A similar issue arose near Sooke last year when gates barred people from reaching a private lake to fish.

Andrew Weaver, Green Party MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, introduced a private-members bill in the B.C. legislature this year to preserve public access to such places.

“By allowing people to cross uncultivated wild land to access public lands, rivers, streams, and lakes, the Right to Roam Act aims to re-establish the rights of British Columbians and to use these spaces to fish, hike and enjoy outdoor recreation,” Weaver said.

Dutcyvich was cryptic in an interview this week, saying: “We’ll just wait a couple of weeks to see what happens.”

His development company holds about 550 acres. “I’m prepared to give them 250 acres or 240 acres for a park, but I want my zoning,” said Dutcyvich.

The park would include Stotan Falls.

Dutcyvich claims regional district actions have cost him millions of dollars in lost land value.

A longtime businessman on Vancouver Island, Dutcyvich founded Lamare Lake Logging in Port McNeill, a company now led by his sons.

In 2013, Dutcyvich applied to the regional district for an amendment to the regional growth strategy to permit subdivision of the land into smaller lots.

After the district refused, 3L took it to court. The Supreme Court directed the district to follow its prescribed process, as set out in its growth strategy, to evaluate the application.

The district appealed.

In March last year, the Court of Appeal for B.C. dismissed the district’s appeal, saying it was required to follow its own processes.

Ann McDonald, the CVRD’s general manager of planning and development services, said this week that she had been in contact with 3L last year after the decision, but was told several months ago by the company that it was reviewing its options and was not ready at that time to proceed. She said she has not heard from the company since.

Vivian Ruskin lives near Stotan Falls, just a few minutes’ walk from her home. She’s among area residents unhappy with the toll booth and fees. A Facebook page called Save the Puntledge Triangle has been established.

The 3L lands are undeveloped and residents do not want “urban sprawl” in that area, she said.

The Puntledge is a salmon-spawning river, Ruskin said, who worries about the impact of nearby housing if it were allowed. “It should be protected.”

The issue around the public using the falls is complicated, she said. Some residents ask if they can avoid trespassing if they do not touch the river bed.

As far as the toll booth and fees, Ruskin wants the road to be opened. “That has been an area that has been enjoyed by people for generations.”

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