It's the story of The Little Neighbourhood That Could (and Did!).
The Sahtlam Neighbourhood Association (SNA) is pleased to announce that the lawsuit against the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit (VIMC) has come to an end. Two months ago, VIMC offered to begin settlement negotiations, and we provided a list of terms relating to hours of operation and maximum permissible noise levels. After some back-and-forth, we had an agreement in principle between the two parties. Unfortunately, VIMC then attempted to change the terms to allow for significantly higher noise levels (leaving our lawyers wholly unimpressed with their negotiating tactics), at which point the settlement talks came to an end.
However, during this time the SNA began to consider the value of proceeding with the lawsuit, given the sweeping changes at the Municipality of North Cowichan since we filed our Notice of Civil Claim in June 2017. Back then, our noise complaints were met by a defensive CAO and an ill-informed Council. When we presented damning evidence that staff had abused their delegated authority to approve a racetrack with no public consultation or any requirements for noise mitigation, we were met by a stonewalled Council. Meanwhile, talks with VIMC were getting us nowhere; they dismissed our complaints and denied there was any noise problem.
The situation now could not be more different. All senior staff who were involved in the approval of VIMC are no longer employed with the Municipality. CAO Ted Swabey brought a breath of fresh air when he was appointed in the fall of 2017, and we have had several productive meetings with him and the new planning staff since then, particularly around noise mitigation. More recently, Mayor Al Siebring made this issue a priority and arranged to meet with us shortly after he was elected. Since that time, Mayor and Council have publicly demonstrated their commitment to addressing the noise situation as they move forward with VIMC's rezoning application, which would allow for a 100-acre expansion of the racetrack. It is surely no coincidence that shortly after that public council meeting, VIMC approached us about settling the matter.
Since filing our lawsuit, there have been some changes at VIMC as well. Last fall, they hired a new manager (their fourth since opening in 2016), who claimed he had a mandate to address the noise issues at VIMC (the existence of which they were finally acknowledging). This past December, we got word that the self-styled "elite motorsport club" had decided to dissolve the membership model. This was not surprising: with a lofty goal of selling "only 499" memberships when they opened in 2016, three years later they had sold less than 50. In addition, a recent ad on UsedVictoria.com offering an F-1000 race car for sale (dubbed "The Screaming Banana" by residents subjected to the sounds of its engine) noted that VIMC had "banned" race cars from their facility.
We have no doubt that these changes were spurred in large part by the impact of our lawsuit. Our goal from the start was to resolve this issue collaboratively, but when that failed, this community rallied its troops and came out fighting. The high profile David-and-Goliath story, whereby a small rural neighbourhood took on a multi-million dollar corporation and their own local government, was reflective of similar issues facing our Valley. Whether it is toxic soil dumping in Shawnigan Lake, composting in Chemainus, or elite race car enthusiasts building a private racetrack in a rural residential community, residents of the Cowichan Valley are sick and tired of being used by Big City corporations for activities that would never be permitted by their own city councils. Our lawsuit put significant public pressure on VIMC and the Municipality, and they had little choice but to sit up and take notice. North Cowichan has since clearly made community consultation a priority. And while noise from the racetrack continues to be a concern, the situation has shown some improvement in recent months.
And so, we decided to weigh the costs and benefits of continuing with the lawsuit. Pursuing a court-ordered solution to the problem of racetrack noise is an expensive option, borne largely on the backs of the SNA directors, the six Sahtlam residents who acted as Plaintiffs, and our many supporters throughout this community. We have held several highly successful fundraisers and received generous contributions from businesses and residents throughout the Cowichan Valley, but we felt that the time was right to redirect some of those resources to other important community issues. After much consideration, we offered VIMC a settlement "without terms" if they would waive any costs associated with releasing them from the lawsuit, and they graciously accepted.
So what does this mean moving forward? The SNA will continue to monitor noise from the track, log complaints, and put public pressure on VIMC if their activities create further problems in our peaceful rural community. As they consider a new business model for their facility, we look forward to the possibility of a more collaborative relationship with VIMC, whereby we can work together to reduce the negative impact of their operations on the surrounding community. Meanwhile, ending the lawsuit allows for a more open dialogue with North Cowichan as we work with staff and our elected officials towards a lasting solution to the problem of racetrack noise in our community.
To download a copy of our Press Release, please click here.