$37m plan to expand Motorsport facility on Vancouver Island rejected

The major objection from the public was noise but in the end it was First Nations rights that swung the majority of councillors, said Mayor Al Siebring

A screen grab from the website of Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, which offers a "motorsports playground" on a track with 19 corners.

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North Cowichan council has voted 5-2 against a bid to expand the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit from one track to two.

The major objection from the public was noise but in the end it was First Nations rights that swung the majority of councillors, said Mayor Al Siebring. He and Coun. Tek Manhas voted in favour of expansion.

The mayor saw the rezoning application and expansion as a chance to fix a zoning headache and get a raft of amenities, concessions, noise mitigation and environmental remediations in return.

At issue was a rezoning application to put three parcels of land in North Cowichan — two industrial parcels and one recreational-use parcel — under one comprehensive development zone that would give the company legal stability and allow for expansion of its vehicle test-track facility.

The Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, on 18.74 hectares, opened its North Cowichan facility in June 2016.

A screen grab from the website of Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, which offers a “motorsports playground” on a track with 19 corners.


The company was looking to build Phase 2, including a new five-kilometre paved circuit, an off-road circuit, a new clubhouse and buildings for storing and repairing motor vehicles. The expansion would have been on 42.47 hectares adjacent to Phase 1.

Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit said the expansion was a $36-million-plus investment that would create about 200 construction jobs and nearly 30 full-time jobs. That’s on top of a facility that already brings $1.5 million into the local economy and $158,000 in municipal taxes each year, supporting tourism, local businesses and charities.

But the Cowichan Tribes First Nation said it wanted government-to-government consultation, saying the land is spiritually and historically important.

If that didn’t happen, the First Nation wanted an archeologist on site throughout the entire development and the protection of elk habitat.

The company responded to that second request on Thursday night, offering environmental observers for all major work, to extend protection for fish and water habitat to include elk habitat, and a parcel of agricultural land to the municipality for purchase to protect that land for elk, said Siebring.

It was not enough.

Two public hearings were held, one on Tuesday, and a second that began Thursday evening and stretched into Friday morning.

After a brief debate, councillors voted at 2:15 a.m.

By Friday morning “everybody knew what their position was, so rather than drag it out each councillor made a brief statement about the way they were going to vote and then they voted,” said Siebring.

They voted to deny third reading to the rezoning bylaw proposal, which means the application cannot move forward.

Mark Holland, of Holland Planning Innovations Inc. who led the presentations on behalf of Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, could not be reached for comment on Friday.


For the mayor, the issue was that Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit was offering a raft of amenities and mitigation measures to use its second parcel.

There is nothing stopping the company from simply asking the municipality for a development permit, avoiding a public hearing, said Siebring. It was only because the company was asking the municipality to rezone the property — lump all the parcels of land together under one development zone to get rid of legal uncertainty around the different zonings — that the request had to go to public hearing.

At the time the first phase was developed it was spread over two parcels of land, one zoned recreational and the other heavy industrial. The track is a permitted use on recreational land but on the parcel zoned for heavy industrial, it had to fit under the category of “product testing.”

Staff at that time allowed it and the test track was built but that may not be the view of today’s municipal staff.

“That’s where things all of a sudden get really interesting and that’s where the lawyers get involved,” said Siebring. “I don’t’ know where it’s going from there.”

“As mayor, I fully expect them now to come forward with an application for a development permit given we already allow this use in [the first parcel of heavy industrial zoned land],” said Siebring.

If staff say no, the matter could be appealed to council.

Siebring doesn’t know what will happen next. “I’m very sure we haven’t heard the last of this file.”


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