North Cowichan will hold a second public hearing on the controversial expansion plans at the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit.
Council voted unanimously at its meeting on Nov. 6 to rescind its decision made after the two-day public hearing early last month to deny the rezoning request. The application will now go to a second public hearing to gather more public input before council again decides on whether to accept or reject it. The hearing is scheduled for Dec. 9, 6 p.m., at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre.
Council also decided to defer the municipality’s decision to not issue a development permit for the VIMC’s phase two, and the decision will be revisited after the public hearing.
Mayor Al Siebring and Coun. Tek Manhas were the only council members to vote for the rezoning to proceed after the public hearing last month.
Siebring told the large audience that gathered for the decision that while the information that council received from the public at the first public hearing was completely valid, it was not complete.
He said the municipality has been involved with legal proceedings over the issue, and the legal advice given to council was, and remains, covered under solicitor-client privilege and, as such, couldn’t be released to the public.
“But when we went into the first round of public hearings last month, the public was providing their input based on the information that North Cowichan was at liberty to provide and, to be clear, that was incomplete information,” Siebring said.
“The public didn’t know explicitly about the legal risks involved in the decision. But on Oct. 15, we received correspondence from Lorenzo Oss-Ketch, a lawyer for the VIMC, demanding that a development permit be issued for phase two on the basis that one had been issued for phase one, and outlining potential legal action if the development permit is not issued.”
Siebring said the new information outlining North Cowichan’s liability was further augmented by another letter from the VIMC lawyer which stated the full scope of the potential lawsuit could be in the range of $60-million.
He said there is also a new offer from the VIMC to gift 250 acres of its lands to Cowichan Tribes, which is also new information.
Siebring pointed out that council’s vote to reconsider its decision to deny rezoning after the first public hearing doesn’t mean any member of council is being forced to change their vote.
“It simply means we’re going to vote on it again,” he said.
“And I acknowledge the vote could very well be the same as it was the last time.”
Coun. Christopher Justice said he feels “sick” that council will revisit the issue, but to be fair and according to procedure, council can’t reconsider its decision without holding another public hearing first.
Manhas said council owes it to the residents, who could face a large tax increase due to the legal liability, to hold another public hearing with all the information presented.
Coun. Rosalie Sawrie also she doesn’t feel good about revisiting the issue, but the public should be allowed to comment on the new information.
Coun. Kate Marsh said it’s not an “easy thing” for council to rescind its earlier decision on the rezoning and have another public hearing, but council has a responsibility with the new information.
Council allowed several speakers at the council meeting to address the issue, and all spoke against the expansion plans at the VIMC moving forward.
Jack McNeil said he spent 38 years dealing with bullies.
“I want you to know that you have the overwhelming support of the community,” he said.
“We urge you to stay the course and not bow to bully tactics.”
Jared Williams, a member of Cowichan Tribes, also urged council not to change their minds on the VIMC expansion.
“Please don’t do this,” he said. “You already said no. This is our Garden of Eden and we don’t want to see it changed.”
Isabel Rimmer, president of the Sahtlam Residents Association, thanked council for its work on the issue.
She said the SRA was expecting the other shoe to drop, but the manner in which it was dropped was unexpected.
“We’d like to see North Cowichan’s taxpayers come to the public hearing and reassure our council and show them that we don’t want to see them bullied,” Rimmer said.
“We feel that council has heard what the Cowichan Tribes community have said and hope they take it into consideration when making their decision. The benefit of this is if council stands by its original decision, it would close the door on these expansion plans for good.”