The owner of Sam’s Auto now has until June 17 to shut down the business and dismantle renovations and upgrades on the property, or face penalties.
The Municipality of North Cowichan decided at the last council meeting to move ahead with its decision on Feb. 17 to not allow rezoning on the property.
Property owner Amar Rashead said he was “surprised and shocked” by council’s decision not to allow the rezoning and to move forward with its cease and desist order.
He said it’s hard to believe, particularly after several delegations spoke on his behalf to council, and a petition with more than 80 signatures of neighbours and supporters was presented to the municipality.
‘This might end up in the courts because I don’t intend to comply with this order and I will continue to work on my property,” said Rashead, who emigrated to Canada from Syria with his family more than 25 years ago.
“I thought this country was supposed to be a democracy. After all the support I received, I thought I would be given the rezoning and be allowed to operate my business and work on my property. I say yes to democracy and no to bureaucracy.”
Rashead has been attempting to fix a number of issues on the half-acre property, located on the corner of Somenos Road and Highway 18, that the municipality has wanted dealt with as he worked toward rezoning.
He wants to tear down the aging two-door garage on the site and replace it with a new four-door garage for his auto inspection and repair business, with living space above.
Rashead 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 site.
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.
The order was originally set for May 20, but council had extended it to June 17 in order to give council time to re-evaluate the issue.
Coun. Maeve Maguire said she has reread the staff report on the property, and believes council’s original position against allowing rezoning was “well reasoned.”
Coun. Kate Marsh said Rashead already has a similar business in an industrial area that is “more suitable.”
Coun. Tom Walker said there are a number of neighbours who are opposed to the rezoning that have also been attending the council meetings that have dealt with the issue.
“I can’t support this and have those people most impacted by [the owner’s] plans for the property go through this agony once again,” he said.
“The right decision had been made, and I’m reluctant to drag this on any further.”
But Joyce Behnsen, the only councillor who supported Rashead, said the property owner has already gone through fours years of agony and expense.
“He’s done all that was asked of him by the municipality and North Cowichan has done nothing to support him,” she said.
“We have to ask whether the municipality is open to business or is it closed to business.”
Mayor Jon Lefebure said he has a lot of concerns with the property, including the fact that bylaw inspection officers have reported even more work done on the property without permits in a recent visit.
“There’s certainly a bit of a pattern here,” he said.