There may be a second public hearing and a re-vote on the rezoning of the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit property.
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring announced Monday that he is exercising his power to ask council to walk back their decision not to approve the rezoning and have council reconsider its vote, revealing that turning down the rezoning has opened the Municipality of North Cowichan up to a possible $50 million liability.
Council decided on Oct. 4, following two marathon nights of public hearing, to deny the rezoning due to community concerns about noise, environmental impacts, and First Nations objections.
The application was denied in a 5-2 vote, with Siebring and Coun. Tek Manhas the only council members who voted for it.
Siebring said he hopes to be able to hold the next public hearing before the end of November.
“Now, to be clear, I’d rather have a mouth full of simultaneous root canals than hold another public hearing on a file that’s this contentious,” said Siebring.
“But I have struggled through a number of sleepless nights over this, and at the end of the day, the fact is that the community was unaware of the legal risks associated with the vote we took on this on the morning of Oct. 4. So that consideration wasn’t part of the public input that informed council’s decision.”
Siebring said the municipality was sent a “demand letter” from the VIMC that was received on Oct. 15 which asks that a development permit for the expansion of the VIMC be issued based on what has already been allowed in phase one of the project.
The $36-million expansion is proposed to be built north of the existing 18.74-hectare site where the motor vehicle circuit and clubhouse are currently situated.
Phase-two of the facility on a 42.47 hectare site is proposed to include a new five-kilometre paved motor vehicle circuit, an off-road motor vehicle circuit, a new clubhouse and buildings for maintaining, repairing and storing motor vehicles.
“The letter claims that the VIMC spent $37 million to engineer and build phase one, and it implies that if we deny the application for phase two, that denial would also put the land use for phase one in jeopardy,” Siebring said.
“From their perspective, they’re saying that that either the use that they’re applying for is allowed in both phase one and phase two, or it’s potentially not allowed at all, which would ultimately force them to close their entire operation.”
Siebring said that if the development permit for phase two is not issued, the VIMC indicated that it will be bringing legal proceedings against North Cowichan and a lawsuit that may be in the range of $50 million.
He said the municipality does have insurance for such lawsuits, but it’s just a $20-million policy, which could leave North Cowichan with a $30-million uninsured liability.
“A $30-million payout is equal to what we collect in taxes every year so a payout, if it were to come to that, would require a doubling of taxes,” he said.
Siebring said that on Oct. 25, he notified the municipality that he will exercise his authority as mayor under the Community Charter to initiate a reconsideration of the third reading for the phase-two expansion, and, with council’s agreement, that the vote be held after another public hearing.
“Assuming the public hearing goes ahead, it will give you (the public) another opportunity to have input on this file,” he said.
“But your input this time will be informed by the potential financial implications of this decision; implications which weren’t widely known or considered in the first public hearing.”