Right Under Our Noses
When the SNA was invited by Mayor Jon Lefebure to participate in negotiations to resolve issues of noise from the nearby motorsports circuit, we readily accepted. However, we made it clear to Mayor Lefebure that the SNA was concerned about further development and expansion of the motorsports facility while current issues remained unresolved. VIMC had been advertising "Phase 2" on their website, and we knew that if no zoning variances were deemed necessary, staff had the delegated authority to approve such projects without consulting council or the public. We repeatedly raised these concerns with Mayor Lefebure, and we checked with the North Cowichan planning department on a weekly basis for any development permit applications from VIMC.
So it was a rather nasty shock to discover that VIMC has been expanding their facilities by constructing an off-road motorsports course on land zoned I2 (which does not allow for motorsports or recreational facilities), and without any permits or verbal permission from North Cowichan staff (confirmed by emails to Scott Mack, Director of Development Services for North Cowichan). We gathered sufficient evidence to issue a complaint to staff, Mayor, and Council on March 8, 2017 that this construction project was in violation of North Cowichan Bylaw 3311, which pertains to Soil Removal and Deposit.
Specifically, Section 3(1) states that “no person may remove soil or deposit fill without first having obtained a permit”. To build over a kilometre of gravel road requires a significant amount of soil (the definition of which also includes gravel), and certainly more than the maximum 300 cubic meters allowed under Section 4, Exemptions.
Furthermore, we had evidence that a “water feature” - which consists of a lined pond through which vehicles drive, exposing the water to oil, grease, fuel, road salt, and other contaminants - was constructed in such a way that the overflow was being diverted directly into Bings Creek. This is clearly a violation of Section 3(4)(a) which states that “no person may remove or deposit soil so as to do the following: (a) pollute, obstruct, divert, damage, destroy, or introduce soil to any body of water, drain, or sewer without the completion of a hydrological report by a Registered Professional Hydrologist and the subsequent approval of the provincial Ministry of Environment, and if applicable, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans”.
North Cowichan staff member Scott Mack confirmed that no permits have been applied for, nor issued, in regard to this off-road facility, nor has staff had any conversations with VIMC or its representatives regarding whether or not such permits would be required. Following questions by Councillor Joyce Behnsen at the March 1, 2017 Committee of the Whole meeting, Mr. Mack reported that two staff members had been sent to investigate the property. The SNA followed up with emails to Mr. Mack, who did not report on the findings of the two staff members, but confirmed that he planned to personally visit the site.
The neighbourhood is understandably in an uproar over this situation. We have serious concerns about how a motorsports facility was approved in the first place, immediately adjacent to a rural residential area, with no restrictions on noise or hours of operation, and with no public input. We have been engaging with the municipality and negotiating in good faith, and now it appears that the facility has been quietly expanding right under our noses while these significant issues remain unresolved.
We have not received answers to our questions as to whether, as a result of visits by staff, the project has been found to be in violation of North Cowichan Bylaw 3311 (or any other bylaws) and, if so, what the consequences will be. Meanwhile, the off-road track has now opened for business. An update on Phase 2 has been added to the agenda for the Regular Council Meeting this Wednesday, March 15, 2017, and the SNA is planning to attend and to speak on the subject.