A large crowd turned out at the Cowichan Theatre for the public hearing on the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit expansion proposal on Tuesday night. (Warren Goulding/Citizen)

Huge turnout pushes Cowichan Motorsport expansion hearing to second night

Group seeking expansion of private track facility near Duncan

About 500 people showed up Tuesday evening for the public hearing into the controversial expansion of the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit.

They filled most of the seats in the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre, which was rented to accommodate the anticipated huge turnout for the hearing, and many of them were anxious to express their opinion on the rezoning application.

So many, in fact, that the hearing wasn’t shut down until 11 p.m. and will continue on Thursday night in order to give everyone on the speakers’ list and any others who wish to weigh in an opportunity to do so.

RELATED: Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit proposes $36 million expansion

It was a long night and lengthy presentations by North Cowichan staff and the proponent, Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit (VIMC), meant the public input portion of the hearing didn’t begin until 8:45, almost three hours after Mayor Al Siebring opened the meeting.

The delay frustrated some members of the audience and at least one councillor.

“It would be great if we could hear from the public tonight,” Coun. Rob Douglas, commented shortly after 8:30.

However, Siebring defended the slow pace, suggesting that laying all the background out before the public was an integral part of the process.

“There have been significant changes since the August (first and second reading) meeting,” North Cowichan’s director of planning, Rob Conway, explained.

Critical to the discussion, Conway said, was to understand the reason rezoning was even necessary since VIMC is already legally operating a motorsport facility.

“The I2 zone does not explicitly identify a motorsport circuit,” he said. “It has never been decided.”

If it passes, a new bylaw will create a new zoning designation.

Conway says the application now includes four new uses including use of the track by the Vancouver Island Karting Association.

VIMC has also provided a number of commitments that would be secured by a covenant, Conway said.

Among those commitments are limits on days of operation, specific limits on daily operation, and a lowering of maximum noise levels.

Any breach would result in a penalty of $5,000 that would be drawn from a $25,000 line of credit VIMC has offered to provide.

VIMC has also offered to make a cash contribution of $600,000 to North Cowichan to pay for environmental and habitat enhancement projects for streams and trails up Mount Prevost.

VIMC’s presenters provided detailed analysis and explanations for environmental, archaeological, water and noise issues.

More the 60 people signed the speakers’ list and others who had not signed the sheet were told they would have an opportunity to make a three minute presentation.

The first 25 people to come up to one of the microphones placed on both sides of the large auditorium expressed their support for the expansion project. It wasn’t until the 26th speaker that the anti-expansion side emerged.

At the end of the evening, it was 30-12 in favour of approving the rezoning application.

RELATED: Lawsuit dropped against Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit

Representatives from four chambers of commerce added their support to VIMC’s expansion plans.

Karen Bresler, a director with the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce, said the expansion provides an opportunity for economic growth.

“If we don’t allow this to happen we will be known as the little town that refused to grow,” Bresler said. “This is an opportunity for us to grow and move successfully into the future.”

Brent Clancy of the Cowichan Lake Chamber of Commerce said he understands the concerns “of the naysayers” but his organization supports expansion.

“(VIMC) is doing everything they can to address these concerns,” Clancy said. “Not everyone is going to be happy here, but the economic development they bring is real.”

Marilyn Palmer of Maple Bay said she was drawing on four decades of experience as an architect when she said the issue boils down to land use.

“Is there a need and is this the best location? (The application) must be evaluated on that,” she said. “This has created a highly divisive mess in our community and there is no evidence demonstrating a need or best location. It’s simply a mess.”

Gail Mitchell of the Cowichan Valley Naturalists Society suggested VIMC has convinced the business community that the expansion is good for them.

“This is debatable and shortsighted,” she charged. “If this application is approved, it means we’re not listening,” she said, referring to concerns about climate change and the environment.

The application and background documents are available at the municipality’s site: www.northcowichan.ca

For more from Thursday’s continuation of the public hearing, see our website: www.cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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