On July 28, 2017 the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit (VIMC) submitted an application to the Municipality of North Cowichan to rezone their current track property plus three adjacent properties owned by VIMC, which together cover an area of over 280 acres.
The Sahtlam Neighbourhood Association (SNA) was informed about the application by North Cowichan Interim Chief Administrative Officer Andy Laidlaw in an email to Mayor and Council and ourselves. Soon afterwards, the application was posted on the North Cowichan website for download by the public. The SNA would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Laidlaw for his prompt attention to this issue.
This application is not a simple rezoning. Instead, VIMC is asking to be designated as a Comprehensive Development Zone (CDZ). This special type of Land Use Zone is for large-scale developments that contain a multitude of uses. Unlike all other parcels of land in North Cowichan, which are assigned a Land Use Zone that is defined by current zoning bylaws, lands within a CDZ are divided into "Areas" with permitted uses in combinations not found in any existing Land Use Zone. Thus, the developer gets to pick and choose different permitted uses for different areas of the CDZ, which can substantially alter the use of those lands as they are currently zoned. Applications for rezoning to a CDZ require amendments to North Cowichan Zoning Bylaw 2950 and to the Official Community Plan (see section 3.4.2.b.).
There are currently thirteen CDZs in North Cowichan. The majority of these are residential housing developments, but also include the Chemainus Artisan Village, the Maple Bay School Site, and Chemainus Quay. The VIMC application is distinct from these other developments in that it proposes to create a 280 acre motorsports complex in areas that are currently designated in the OCP as Industrial (southern half of the proposed CDZ) and Rural (northern half).
In addition to the racetrack expansion with associated clubhouse and storage buildings, the application proposes three recreational areas, one of which would allow a golf course or other recreational facility, and all three of which would allow a riding stable. The golf course area is on a steep hillside that rises 100 metres in elevation, and portions of this area are designated as a Steep Slope Hazard (> 20%) on the Official Community Plan. No plans or designs for a golf course were submitted with the application.
The other proposed recreational areas are: (1) a steep-sided ravine through which runs the western arm of Bings Creek, a protected fish-bearing stream, and (2) the northern-most part of VIMC property, which runs under the power lines. The former falls under the jurisdiction of the BC Riparian Areas Act and it is unlikely that any development will be possible in that location. The latter location is very remote, is used almost exclusively by hikers and ATV-ers, and has virtually no road access, which does not lend itself well to the needs of an equestrian facility.
Thus it would appear on the surface that, rather than proposing to develop a "comprehensive multi-use development", VIMC is effectively asking to increase the size of their racetrack and proposing no significant change from the type of activities that are already taking place. So why not ask for a simple rezoning instead?
It is doubtful that VIMC knew enough about the nuances of municipal zoning bylaws to understand the difference between a simple rezoning and the creation of a CDZ. During pre-planning meetings with the North Cowichan Planning department, staff likely advised VIMC that a CDZ was the most appropriate proposal for their situation. It turns out to be the most advantageous situation for the municipality as well.
Readers may recall that the SNA recently filed a lawsuit against North Cowichan for approving the VIMC facility in contravention of North Cowichan zoning bylaws and for failing to enforce those bylaws. In our Notice of Civil Claim, we assert that this motorsports facility is actually a racetrack in the context of zoning and its impact on land use. Since our presentation to North Cowichan in March 2017, where we explained that VIMC is in violation of the zoning bylaws, the municipality has refused to comment on the issue. However, if the VIMC application were for a simple rezoning of the currently used property, the municipality would be forced to take a stand on the issue. By requesting that the currently used property be combined with their other properties into a CDZ, the municipality avoids having to address the issue of whether activities on the original property are in violation of current zoning bylaws.
The new rezoning application, developed with the assistance of North Cowichan Planning department (as all large applications are), seeks to amend the Zoning Bylaw to include "vehicle testing and driver training facility" as a permitted use, thus avoiding a racetrack designation. Not only would this finally legitimize the motorsport circuit as a permitted use, but given this process will require a public hearing, it has the added benefit of avoiding the word "racetrack" during community consultations, meetings, and public hearings. The proposed definition is as follows:
"The use of land for holding driving programs of up to 100 cars and drivers per day in different areas of the facility, in different configurations with different groups, single vehicles driving the track to achieve and improve fast lap times and practicing emergency braking, lane changes, cornering, slalom and other emergency procedures including some at high speed, multiple vehicles using the facility simultaneously, including during club or manufacturers' activities to achieve and improve their fast lap times, change settings of cars and guide drivers to improve lap times, plus in the pit area change tires, conduct minor maintenance and set up work on cars to improve their lap times and include clubhouse, restaurant, and club use."
The process of reviewing and approving this application is complex and expected to take anywhere from 6 to 12 months, as per the North Cowichan Guide to Zoning Amendments. The first step will be a review by the Community Planning Advisory Committee, and that will be the subject of our next blog post. Please stay tuned for the latest updates on this important issue (subscribe at the top of this page). We will advise you as to WHEN and HOW you can be involved and how to share your opinions on the proposed racetrack expansion with Mayor and Council.