North Cowichan council turned down Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit’s bid to expand from one track to two for a second time Tuesday, but it has proposed giving the existing race track more legal certainty.
Councillors voted 6-1 against a comprehensive zoning amendment to allow the second track at the site off Highway 18, based on feedback at a Monday night public hearing at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said of the approximately 600 people who attended the hearing, 70 spoke against the expansion and only 17 in favour, prompting the mayor to change his vote.
Although in the past he has supported the expansion, arguing a comprehensive zoning would give legal certainty to the track’s land use and provide needed amenities to the community, as well as mitigation of noise and environmental concerns, Siebring voted against the second track on Tuesday.
“At the end of the day I have to listen to the public input,” Siebring said.
“When consistently … 80 per cent of the people show up at these public hearings to tell us not to do this, I’ve got to listen to that too. That’s how democracy works.”
Siebring said council had to balance “the varied priorities of land use, environmental issues, Aboriginal relations, and most recently, the threat of a huge lawsuit.”
“All of these factors have weighed heavily as I have had to come to a definitive conclusion on this issue.”
On Oct. 4, following a lengthy public hearing, North Cowichan council voted 5-2 against a second phase of the track and facilities, but the debate didn’t end there.
A little over three weeks later, Siebring said council would revisit the public hearing and vote based on a lawsuit threat from the track’s owners.
Siebring estimated the suit could cost the municipality in the range of $50 million and double taxes for residents.
The mayor said he wanted residents who were unaware of the possible tax implications of rejecting the second phase of the track to have the opportunity to weigh in.
But Siebring said it was clear at Monday’s public hearing, which went into the early hours of the next day, that regardless of the threatened suit, about 80 per cent of those in attendance remained opposed to the track expansion.
Council then repealed the second reading of the bylaw, amending it to say that all the uses that would have been allowed under a comprehensive zoning for both phases of the track will now just be applied to the existing track. The goal is to provide legal clarity for the track owners and municipality that the original track use is a permitted use under its zoning, something that was previously in question.
The bylaw is expected to come back to council for third reading in the new year.
Mariah Wallener, a director with the Sahtlam Neighbourhood Association, which had opposed the circuit expansion, said it was “very clear” from the audience that the majority were against the expansion.
“I don’t think it can be said this was some kind of vocal minority,” said Wallener.
Lorenzo Oss-Cech, lawyer for track owner GAIN Group, issued this statement: “The last thing my client wants to do is to sue. My client has never had an issue with North Cowichan. It has complied with every regulation and obtained every permit.
“Once we saw that the rezoning application was going to be futile, my client withdrew it.
“It has now demanded that North Cowichan issue the development permit for Phase Two, which we say my client was entitled to as the zoning for the land on which Phase Two is to be built is exactly the same as the zoning of the land on which Phase One is built. That is, I-2 (heavy industrial).
“For unknown reasons to my client, the development permit has been refused on the basis of improper zoning; yet a mere few months ago North Cowichan’s counsel stood beside us and argued to the Supreme Court of British Columbia that my client did everything correct and that the zoning for Phase One was appropriate.”