A matter came before Council at the recent September 18, 2017 Special Council meeting. Long-time Sooke business owner Shawn Driver applied for a business license for Driver Enterprises (aka Drivers Welding), a business which had been in operation for 19 years.
Normally, business licenses are a simple matter completed at the District of Sooke, by staff. This time, though, it came before Council.
Driver had to apply for his business license through Council because the business use of his land falls under “legal non-conforming.” This is where a parcel of land was legally used for a particular purpose before Sooke was incorporated (in 1999), and that zoning has been changed because of the incorporation. With Driver having established his business prior to incorporation, he would be “grandfathered” in.
Driver is getting nervous, he said to Council. They started their business before Sooke was incorporated, and now, post incorporation, they are stuck in a space between the past and the present. Driver said that he had applied for a business license in 2008. At that time, he was told that he is legal non-conforming, so they couldn’t sell him one.
Not having a business license is troubling, according to Driver. He says that his insurance underwriter is asking for a copy of his business license. He doesn’t have one. Without a business license, according to Driver, you “look very backyard.” Not having a business license can impact your ability to get business insurance, and it can also impact your banking ability as a business.
Having been in business for 19 years, having regularly provided automotive frame work to all the automotive shops in town, he would now like to have one.
Without any fuss or muss, Driver was granted a business license by Council, and staff was instructed to complete Mr. Driver’s application.
Council contemplates legal non-conforming business at large
This lead to a broader discussion between Council and Staff: Should all legal non-conforming business operators have to go through Council to apply for a business license? Or, should staff be able to process these requests themselves?
Councillor Rick Kasper, always looking for ways to streamline processes, was all for staff being able to process these requests autonomously. He felt all legal non-conforming business operators should get a license if they apply. The District has to approve these, he said, as per provincial legislation. He made a motion to allow staff to process these requests.
Councillor Kerrie Reay preferred to keep these coming through to Council. If the authority rested with staff, Reay felt it could put staff in an awful predicament. She didn’t want to see the public blaming staff for something that was the responsibility of elected officials.
The CAO said they tend to get legal opinions on every case that comes before them, and also recommended that the applications continue to come before Council in a one-of basis.
Councillor Ebony Logins noted that they did not have enough information about the provincial legislation. She felt she could not vote on Kasper’s motion without having all the information.
Mayor Maja Tait observed that there are many business owners in Sooke who don’t bother applying for a license, and she appreciated the insights Driver provided on the values that a business license offers.
Also notable was that Councillor Brenda Parkinson requested that the District only contract business owners who have a business license, stating it only made sense that the District supports the businesses that support the District.
An amendment to defer Kasper’s motion to another meeting was made. Then, the mics went dead and Something Important Was Said. Tait turned her mic on and reiterated that the amendment was passed.
So, the process is yet to be determined, but if there are other legal non-conforming business operators out there, it would appear that the District is poised to approve your application, and they will iron out the process.
Since you’re here, we have a small favour to ask.
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