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Racetrack Rezoning: What You Need to Know

The Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit (VIMC) has submitted an application to rezone 100 acres of forested land to allow for expansion of their racetrack. This application will be the subject of a Public Hearing on October 1st at 6 pm at the Cowichan Theatre.

The SNA is asking for your support in opposing this rezoning application. Our objections are many, and they fall into three categories: acoustical, environmental, and economic.

Acoustical Issues

The existing racetrack is very loud, and a tripling of the track can only be expected to worsen the situation. The SNA has data showing that noise from VIMC can be up to 30 dB louder than ambient noise (note that every 10 dB increase in noise is perceived as a doubling of volume). The difference between ambient (background) noise and intrusive noise is a measure of the noise impact. According to noise impact standards, a difference of more than 5 dB is a negative noise impact and a difference of 10 dB is a significant negative noise impact, so a difference of 30 dB is severe. At times, track noise in our community can be up to 8 times louder than background noise.

Sahtlam is very quiet. Our rural residential neighbourhood is an exceptionally quiet area, protected from highway and industrial noise due in part to the local topography. The track at VIMC reaches high elevations that allow sound to be transmitted over large distances without significant attenuation. VIMC contends that because the current zoning is heavy industrial (I-2), which allows for sawmills and other operations, the noise situation “could be much worse.” This is a logical fallacy, where our complaints are dismissed based on a hypothetical worse-case scenario that bears no relevance to the problem at hand.

VIMC has NO concrete plans for noise mitigation. In their application, VIMC proposes erecting sound walls and berms; however, the precise location, size, and makeup of these structures has not been determined. One consultant recommended multiple walls, some up to 25 feet tall in places, which raises concerns about the visual impact such features would have on the slopes of an iconic mountain (Mt. Prevost). Worse, VIMC has no empirical evidence to show that these proposed structures will actually work to reduce noise.

VIMC’s proposed noise limit. VIMC has proposed a noise limit of “LA20, 15 min max = 59 dB”. This means that for 12 minutes out of any 15 minute period, noise levels cannot exceed 59 dB (note that ambient noise in our neighbourhood is routinely around 30 dB). However, for the remaining 3 minutes they can make as much noise as they like. If this sounds like a convoluted, smoke-and-mirrors measurement, you’re right. Virtually all motorsports facilities with noise limits use a set maximum that is in effect all the time. To make matters worse, the penalty for violating VIMC’s proposed noise limit is a $5000 fine. This is no difficulty for VIMC, as such fines would simply be considered “the cost of doing business”. In addition, since the fines would be paid directly to North Cowichan (who will receive payment for the first five violations in advance), this raises questions about what incentive the municipality would have to enforce those noise limits.

Go Kart racing would be a permitted use. This is hidden in the wording of the rezoning application, but it would allow the very thing that VIMC and North Cowichan have always said would not be allowed - racing. To make matters worse, a minimum of 6 "event days" per year for Go Karts would be exempt from any noise limits (with no limitation on the maximum number of such events). Go Kart racing could happen every day of the week and every weekend. Theoretically, there is nothing to stop VIMC from becoming the biggest Go Kart track in North America. Also note that NO noise studies have been done with Go Karts at VIMC.

Special Events. Aside from the minimum 6 days of special events for Go karts, there would be another 6 days of special events per year that would also be exempt from any noise limits. Three of these events would also be exempt from any restrictions on track activity on statutory holidays. There are 10 statutory holidays in BC, including Christmas and New Year. Four of those happen in the summer. Since 2016, there has been only ONE long holiday weekend (other than Xmas and New Years) that has not been ruined by track noise.

Environmental Issues

Water. The land that VIMC wants to develop is part of the Somenos Watershed. It includes a portion of Bings Creek as well as Menzies Creek and its two tributaries. The rezoning application offers to “gift” land around Bings Creek to the municipality, but this land cannot ever be developed due to its riparian status, so the word gift is rather disingenuous. With regard to Menzies Creek, the proposed racetrack expansion would cross this waterway 4 times and have a significant impact on its ecology. There is no doubt that paving over areas within a watershed will impact the degree to which the land can act as a reservoir, not to mention the impact of airborne pollutants and particulates from motorsport activities on water quality. For example, high-speed motorsport activities create significant tire wear, resulting in “tire crumb”, which ends up in waterways and is very attractive to fish fry, who perceive it as food.

Elk and other species. The impact of the proposed development on our beloved local elk herds, including habitat destruction, fencing, and noise, are unknown. Many other important bird and mammal species inhabit the forested slopes of Mt. Prevost, and the impact of VIMC’s development on their habitat is unknown. Worse, there is no requirement for VIMC to assess this.

Climate Change. North Cowichan has acknowledged that there is a Climate Change Crisis. Surely the corollary to this acknowledgement is to examine development proposals through that lens. A motorsport facility is a potent producer of CO2 with no tangible benefit to justify its contributions to climate change. Claims by VIMC that they aim to be the first “carbon neutral” motorsport facility simply reflect their intention to purchase carbon credits (and with no requirement to actually do so).

Economic Issues

VIMC has made many claims about the economic benefits they bring to the Cowichan Valley. However, they have provided no data with which to back up these claims. The rezoning application references an Economic Impact Study, but this information has not been shared with either the municipality or the public. So far, we have only their word to go on that they contribute significantly to the local economy, and no attempts have been made to address the negative impact that a 150-acre motorsports facility would have on existing and future businesses in the surrounding area.

The Cowichan Valley has branded itself as an agro- and eco-tourism destination. A racetrack does nothing to enhance that branding; indeed noise from the track precludes a peaceful hike on Mt. Prevost or the Sahtlam portion of the Trans Canada Trail. A delightful wine-tasting or a peaceful bed-and-breakfast experience is not compatible with a nearby racetrack. It is difficult to imagine anyone investing in a small, tourism-based business within earshot of the track. On a bad day, the track has been heard in Maple Bay and on Mt. Tzouhalem. There is no data to suggest that this will not be much worse if the track is expanded threefold.

The Urban Containment Boundary (UCB) is the border within which density is encouraged in North Cowichan. The UCB is a mere 2 km from VIMC. How do we encourage the development of housing to meet the needs of a growing population when homes would be subject to the kind of noise the Sahtlam Area is now experiencing? One only needs to look to the Bear Mountain/Langford area outside Victoria to hear the rumblings of discontent around noise from Western Speedway. As development approaches this long-established racetrack, residents are increasingly unhappy about the noise. Why would North Cowichan consider exacerbating the unresolved headache of the existing racetrack by allowing a significant expansion of that racetrack?

In addition to these three areas of concern - acoustical, environmental, and economic - the Official Community Plan suggests many areas where the rezoning application falls short. From a regional perspective, VIMC’s proposed expansion also violates many of the priorities of the Cowichan 2050 project. The SNA has been invited to submit a referral for this rezoning application, and our response will address these issues as well.

The decision facing North Cowichan Mayor and Council is a vitally important one. They will need to evaluate all the evidence and information before coming to a conclusion that will be their legacy for the Cowichan Valley for many years to come.

See you on October 1st!

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