After a grueling three hour public hearing, council narrowly passed an amendment to Sooke’s Official Community Plan (OCP). This would provide an avenue for existing historic non-conforming non-residential uses that are outside the scope of a home-based business to legally operate on a temporary basis (up to 2 years) if a Temporary Use Permit was approved by Council. Currently, with the OCP as it stands, Sooke Council has no way of issuing temporary permits.
Historic non-conforming means “non-conforming use that has continually operated on the same property since 2010 or earlier.” This is different than legal non-conforming, which is when a land owner uses a property legally but the zoning laws change around them, thus making their business that legal at one time but currently not conforming.
In one way, it was a debate about local business operator, who currently runs an industrial welding business at 5536 Sooke Road. The lot has never been zoned for its current use. Nor does the business owner have a municipally-issued business licence. While this was an OCP amendment, the business owner was at the centre of the debate. He was the applicant for the OCP amendment. And, he was invited to speak before opening up the hearing to the public. These things made the property owner a very central figure.
To be clear, though, no decisions were made about that particular property. The hearing was strictly about modifying the OCP to allow for temporary permits to be issued. Should the motion pass (it did) that property would still have to apply to Council for a temporary permit.
It was noted that there were several non-conforming businesses in operation throughout Sooke. This amendment does not impact legal non-conforming properties (grandfathered in). Applications will still need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. While a temporary permit can be as long as two years, Council can set a shorter time. A temporary permit can be renewed only once. A site visit would be required. And it was also noted, the District does not have the ability to re-coup lost taxes.
Before the hearing started, applicant’s lawyer Aurora L. Faulkner-Killam noted that the District was lucky to have a property owner who is more interested in finding a solution than running to court. Here you have a situation where a land owner has been doing something for a very long time, she observed, with the unofficial approval of council. There is ambiguity. This property owner wants a solution, something that will work for everyone.
The public hearing was over two hours of input, from people of all sides.
Supporting the business owner, even though they repeated stated it wasn’t about him, they spoke repeatedly to his excellent service and work, his contributions to the community and to the education system, and to the need for employment in Sooke.
Opposed were the frustrated people who wanted to open a business but couldn’t because they followed the rules; the business owners who followed the rules and suffered as a result; and, the neighbours who bought a lot beside a farm and 30 years later find themselves beside an industrial welding shop.
Other observations were made. Like, can an individual apply for an OCP modification that would in turn affect about 900 properties throughout Sooke? The answer is probably a No. Yet in this case, it was happening in front of everyone’s eyes. Also, even though the District was not required by law (changes impacting more than 10 homes do not have to be individually notified), perhaps better efforts could have been made to notify the 900 affected land owners throughout Sooke.
After the public hearing closed, it went back to Council.
Mayor Tait spoke first. There are businesses throughout Sooke that are not in compliance, she said, and to that end, the District does not do business with illegal businesses. That change has already been made. The OCP is a prevailing OCP, Tait said, adding that land in a the ALR had historically been lifted out, and that is now Sunriver. There was a vision for Artisan’s Alley in the OCP, and that is now a car wash. The OCP was once changed to allow for cluster dwellings, and now there’s frustration on parking challenges in Sooke. This is all part of growth, Tait said, and it’s painful. From that pain comes maturity. The OCP doesn’t offer certainty. We’re not the only community faced with this, she said in closing. Different communities make different choices, and we need to find the Sooke solution.
Councillor Kerrie Reay summed up the stance of the other councillors who opposed the OCP amendment. Today’s hearing on a text amendment to the OCP was ultimately designed to address the business owner’s property purchased in 2000, observed Reay. At that time, the property was zoned agricultural. She’s not sure how property owner was ever under the impression as this property zoned anything but agricultural. How did we get from the cease and desist letter in 2004 to today, she asked. Why, in the face of the cease and desist, would the business owner continue to operate? And, why was there no enforcement? And now we are here, Reay said, with a successful business that has for years flown under the radar, and a business that the District itself has employed. She noted a number of cases where businesses followed the rules and had to comply, for better or for worse. Do we reward flying under the radar? Are we endorsing that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than to seek permission? If we don’t enforce the rules, the optics are favouritism. Finding a solution now is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. In closing, Reay said she cannot support the temporary permit text amendment, as it allows those operating under the radar to continue doing so, while not rewarding those businesses that follow the rules. Councillors Brenda Parkinson and Ebony Logins echoed Reay’s sentiments.
Coming out in support of the OCP amendment were Councillors Kevin Pearson, Bev Berger and Rick Kasper.
This is the last council meeting, the 11th hour, observed Pearson. We can’t change the history. A lot of mistakes have been made. Tonight’s decisions have to be corrective, not punitive. There’s value in having a temporary-use permit, with each applicant coming before council on a one-of basis. Pearson acknowledged they much information dumped on them at the last minute. There’s a long history. Bad information has come forward. Pearson said there has to be some form of transition, observing this wasn’t going to be a win in this for anyone. Sooke is growing, he said. We’re going to be 15,000 soon, and that means we’re going to have to comply with the rules and regulations. Many things have been done in while operating in small-town mode. To ensure fairness to businesses, he would support the text amendment for a temporary use permit. But, he added, the terms and the definitions of any approved permit would have to be carefully laid out. It’s a difficult decision, he noted during his closing, on the last night of a four year term.
Councillors Bev Berger and Rick Kasper agreed with Pearson’s assessment. Berger welcomes growth and supports the staff recommendation. Every applicant will have to go through another public process. If this is passed, then everyone can come once again when the business owner applies. Kasper wants to see strict enforcement going forward. This is a no-win situation. He wants to see the community move on. If this gets tied up in court it would be incredibly time consuming and terribly expensive. He, like the others, wanted to see strict conditions attached to any temporary approval.
Ultimately, Mayor Maja Tait and Councillors Kevin Pearson, Rick Kasper and Bev Berger supported the motion to modify the OCP to allow for temporary permits; Kerrie Reay, Brenda Parkinson and Ebony Logins were opposed. The motion carried, and passed third and final reading.
The new Council, whoever that will be, will have the pleasure of receiving and deliberating individual applications.
Additional documents considered by Council:
- R.Fraboni – OCP Correspondence
- D.Gray – OCP Correspondence
- J.Farmer – OCP Correspondence
- A. Planeta_Sunny Shores – OCP Correspondence
- D.McClimon_4M – OCP Correspondence
- S.Driver – OCP Correspondence
- Submissions 1 – 14_D. Lewers
- Official Community Plan Amendment Bylaw No. 724 (400-12), 2018
- Public Comment – D. Tsai
All of council was present at today’s meeting, the final meeting for this group of elected officials — unless godforbid a special meeting be called. Also there were a number of candidates who stayed through to the bitter end, which came not a moment too soon at 11:30.
- Longtime illegal welding business to face enforcement, temporary permit denied
- Applicant driving the temporary use permit misses deadline to apply
- Controversial “house-keeping” bylaw passes Council scrutiny, public hearing in January
- New council cautiously defers text amendment to zoning bylaw, regarding temporary use permits
- Letter: Councillor puts District at risk, admits liability in public meeting
- Closing act: Sooke Council narrowly passes OCP amendment
- Delegation: Derek Lewers presents years of frustration to Sooke Council
- Long-established business with improper zoning & licensing plagues politicians, business owner and neighbours
- Legal matters prevent Sooke council from providing information
- Delegation: Lewers’ family asks the District to stand by their bylaws
- Want to do business with the District? Then a business licence from the District will be required
- Controversial licence rescinded, business owner to appeal
- Council to receive report that chastises Council for granting a business licence
- Delegation reveals Sooke Council divided on being informed
- DELEGATION: Recent bad Council decision tied to the lack of an up-to-date OCP
- District of Sooke grants improper business licence, violates its own zoning