Lothar Netzel and Jacquelynn Starck aren’t sure where they will be living next summer, but it won’t be at Thetis Lake Campground, a place they’ve called home for most of the last two decades.
A Jan. 12 letter from property owner Eric Gieringer broke that news to the couple and the rest of the park’s 17 mobile homeowners.
The letter detailed Gieringer’s desire to retire and sell the property that he and his family have owned for 41 years. It stated that he has entered into a property sales agreement with a developer who plans to submit a rezoning application to the Town of View Royal in the near future.
Should the rezoning application fail, Gieringer wrote, the tenancy for the mobile home owners in the park will still end and the campground will evolve to fall in line with its current zoning, which is for temporary use and tourism, not permanent residency.
In the event the property is successfully rezoned, he has offered $10,000 to any tenant that agrees to completely vacate the property by the end of September. Otherwise, residents will receive the minimum according to the B.C. Tenancy Act – which is 12 months of the current monthly rent or $4,884 in this case – and be given an extra year to leave.
Netzel and Starck admitted the news wasn’t surprising. “Rumours have been going around for years,” Netzel said.
In fact, since 2000, any new tenant arriving on the property has signed a letter indicating that the tenancy might end due to rezoning or a transition into a more traditional campground.
“I’m not happy about it. It’s not the way I thought this would all end, but we’ve been very frank with all of our tenants that we really saw no future the way this business model is,” Gieringer told the Gazette.
Still, residents are fearful of the prospect of entering a housing and rental market that is among the most competitive and unaffordable in Canada.
“This news has stressed people out … They are getting rid of the last affordable housing in Victoria,” said Karen Hayes, another resident.
“It’s impossible … The rents are up to $900 to $1,200,” Starck said, adding that they may find help through the Victoria Kiwanis Club. The $10,000 offer is of little consolation, she and Netzel said, as they don’t believe their home can be moved due to its age and current state.
They estimate that demolishing and removing the structure will cost more than that and said they should be offered something closer to $28,508, the most recent assessed value of their home.
According to Gieringer, one tenant has offered to demolish the homes for $1,000 apiece, a cost Gieringer said he would cover to allow his tenants to keep the full $10,000. He said 13 of the 17 mobile homeowners have already accepted the offer.
The application to have the property rezoned remains in its early stages and hasn’t been officially received by the Town of View Royal. Mayor David Screech said council will have to weigh its options with regards to potential development of the property and that its close proximity to a nature park will mean they’ll be looking for dedicated park land and proper buffers as part of any proposal.
While Screech sympathizes with the residents, and has sat down with them to help get them on affordable housing lists, he also doesn’t blame the park’s owners for the route they’ve chosen.
“I respect the owners’ right that they have decided that they just don’t want to run the park anymore. So unfortunately what’s happening with the tenants is a by-product of that,” he said.
As for why the Town has allowed the campground to go against bylaws and allow permanent residency, Screech said the property has simply evolved that way and has filled a much needed gap in housing in the region. “It makes it a very difficult situation to handle.”
Beyond finances and having to search for a new home, residents say they’ll miss living in a beautiful part of the region.
“(I’ll miss) the park next door … Just to go in the summer time, to be able to go swimming over there,” Hayes said.
“It’s five minutes to walk to the lake. Of course you don’t want to go swimming now, but in the summer it’s nice,” Netzel added.