In limbo: North Cowichan council agrees to second look at Sam’s Auto

The future of Sam’s Auto is unclear after the council meeting on May 18 in the Municipality of North Cowichan.

The future of Sam’s Auto is unclear after the council meeting on May 18 in the Municipality of North Cowichan.

But the order from the municipality to shut down the business, located on the corner of Somenos Road and Highway 18, and dismantle renovations and upgrades the owner has completed to buildings on the property by May 20 or face penalties has been extended to  June 17.

The extension was granted because Coun. Al Siebring made a notice of motion to have council rescind its decision on Feb. 17 to not allow rezoning on the property, and the motion is now on the agenda to be discussed at the next council meeting on June 1.

Council was presented with a petition at the meeting with 81 names on it from neighbours and supporters of Sam’s Auto owner Amar Rashead in his fight with the municipality, and many took to the microphone to express their support for the immigrant from Syria.

But one neighbour, Shane Rose, said the property has had major drainage problems over the years that have impacted neighbouring properties, including his own.

Rose said the problems existed long before Rashead bought the property four years ago, and are still a deep concern for him as council continues to debate the future of the property.

Rashead has been attempting to fix a number of issues on the half-acre property that the municipality has wanted dealt with as he worked towards his plan to tear down the aging two-door garage and replace it with a new four-door garage for his auto inspection and repair business, with living space above.

He had invested $70,000 in his property to remove underground gas storage tanks that were left from when the site housed a gas station, consolidate the two properties on the site to make it easier for rezoning for his new garage, and renovate buildings on the property.

But ongoing bylaw violations, the fact that the site is considered too small for Rashead’s plans and other issues led to the municipality rejecting his application to change the zoning on the property, and the decision to hand him the cease and desist order.

Coun. Rob Douglas said it appears there is a lot of support for Rashead in the neighbourhood and he would like to see a public meeting held to get public feedback before giving further direction to staff on the issue.

Coun. Kate Marsh said she felt the rationale for turning down the rezoning request “was sound.”

“I’m not here to win any popularity contests,” she said.

“I’m willing to look at it again, but I don’t have a good feeling on making any changes at this time.”

Coun. Tom Walker said he was “uncomfortable” with any move to overturn the decision during the meeting without an up-to-date staff report and other relevant background material to refer to.

“If we put this on the next meeting’s agenda, we would have those reports and a chance to review them,” he said.

Coun. Joyce Behnsen said she’s “upset” by Rashead’s situation and doesn’t feel he has been treated fairly by the municipality.

‘The Official Community Plan for that area is meant as a guideline and is supposed to be flexible,” she said.

“It’s not meant to be used as a hammer on Mr. Rashead. I think having a public meeting on the issue will allow him the opportunity to present his ($750,000) investment plan for that corner.”