Since opening its doors to the public in 2012 Lake Country’s Kangaroo Creek Farm has been a huge success, bringing thousands of visitors to Lake Country with a unique business model that asks only for donations from its customers.
Owner Caroline MacPherson says visitors to the farm have increased from 30,000 in its first year being open to the public to what is expected to be 100,000 this year, a year that will likely see Kangaroo Creek also triple in size with a planned expansion.
But with growth comes issues and the farm is starting to run into some problems due to the increase in visitors to the farm combined with what the District of Lake Country sees as parking issues on Main Street, where visitors park to make the trek down to the farm to view and feed kangaroos, peacocks, parrots and a wide variety of animals.
The issue of parking arose at Lake Country council last week as MacPherson appeared to ask for a permit to expand her operations to a neighboring property that will take Kangaroo Creek Farm from its current 3.5 acres to close to 10 acres in total.
But the District of Lake Country is asking MacPherson to come up with 28 parking stalls to help alleviate congestion on Main Street and options for parking in the area are limited.
“From a planning perspective it has been found that the Kangaroo Farm is such a draw to the community that parking can now become in short supply on Main Street during the busy tourism season and during the Farm’s operating hours,” wrote planner Paul Dupuis. “The site provides limited parking opportunities. This (means) that visitors are either parking on Main Street and in some cases may be using the adjacent parking lot of commercial businesses.”
Appearing at Lake Country council last week, MacPherson said she takes issue with the description of parking on Main Street begin congested due to her operation. She said she inquired about where the issue arose and was told there have been two complaints.
“There have been two formal complaints over the last four years and considering we had somewhere between 50 and 70,000 visitors I think that’s fairly remarkable,” she told district councillors. “All of the local businesses I have talked to around me are more than happy with the situation, even though some of our visitors are likely using the Cooper’s parking lot. I don’t think two complaints over four years when we are talking about thousands and thousands of visitors should be construed as such a negative impact.”
The parking requirements come from district zoning bylaws which require businesses to provide parking access. At Kangaroo Creek there is plenty of parking allocated down at the farm for handicapped customers but parking for visitors is limited to Main Street and nearby businesses.
MacPherson suggested there could be parking allocated on an empty lot across from the farm’s entrance but added she would have to lease the property from the district to pay for the appropriate number of stalls and that plan appears to be going nowhere fast.
Increased traffic on Main Street has been something the District has been lobbying for for years but the number of stalls being used for visitors to one business has them asking for more options for the customers. At the Lake Country Chamber of Commerce, manager Corrinne Cross says she hopes a solution can be found but adds the traffic on Main Street is a great thing for Lake Country. So good in fact that the Chamber has located its tourism information booth right at the top of the entrance to Kangaroo Creek.
“We wanted something in the downtown core so where would you put it? You put it where the visitors are,” she said. “It’s working out very well. We get to share information about the farm and also tell people what else there is to do in Lake Country. If you think about the A & W, Subway, Little Caesars, they are all reaping the benefits of the amount of traffic there. Hopefully they can find a win, win. We want it busy on Main Street but we also want it to be safe with parking.”
Expansion plans at Kangaroo Creek include a walking bridge over Middle Vernon Creek to access the land to the East of the current farm, providing an opportunity to allow employees to park on nearby Jensen Road and for MacPherson to spread her animals out into a larger area and make it easier on them to handle the number of visitors.
A couple of residents from Jensen Road told council they were concerned with increased traffic on the road with the expansion although the area is zoned for multi-family use and the street is also home to a high density condo.
A long-time resident of Lake Country, MacPherson says it’s been frustrating getting the parking issue dealt with and says if a solution can’t be found, they may have to change the way they operate in order to limit the amount of visitors and cut down on traffic.
“I think what people need to know is if they ever see the day where we throw our hands in the air and bring a fee schedule in (to charge visitors), it’s not out of greed it’s out of frustration because we have been made a victim of our own success,” she said. “If the municipality continues to put pressure on I will eventually be forced to charge a fee in order to reduce the number of people that come.”
In the end, council voted to approve a temporary use permit for the expansion but included the need for additional parking spaces. Kangaroo Creek has five months to come up with a plan for the 28 stalls. Expansion plans are expected to begin in late July.
“I think it will get ironed out but it’s been a lot more stressful than it needs to be,” said MacPherson.