At the recent Regular Council meeting held on January 14, 2019, council hesitantly checked the final checkbox and approved the final housekeeping matter, allowing for Temporary Use Permits in the Gatewood Residential designation area, a bylaw modification initiated by the previous council and now completed by this council. The bylaw was ultimately inspired by one long-term illegally operating business in Sooke, which has provided employment and excellent service on a location not zoned for the type of work (welding, automotive repair).
While this final item passed on Monday was truly a house-keeping matter (bringing an Official Community Plan—aka OCP—amendment in alignment with District bylaws), its implications are far-reaching (hundreds of homes are in the gateway zone) … but not really (it’s only relevant to illegal, non-conforming businesses that have been in operation since 2010 or earlier). Yeah, it’s that messy.
Had this council rejected this housekeeping item, the changes made by the previous council would have to be “unwound.” This would mean renouncing their previously passed OCP amendment, which was democratically approved after a public hearing was held. In passing this item, decisions arrived at via a democratic process (by a majority vote of members from the previous council) would be upheld.
Allowing for temporary use permits is not a pass for illegally operating businesses to continue. Illegal businesses operating since or before 2010 will need to apply for a temporary use permit, with the intent of shifting their business from illegal to legal. If granted, council could stipulate the time in which this needs to be done. If approved and temporary-use permit would be granted, the applicant can still apply for one extension. Again, it would be up to council to approve that extension and determine the period of that extension. At the end of the temporary-use designated period, if said business has not conformed, it could then be shut down.
While a certain business’s name kept cropping up in the conversation, the mayor attempted to stay focused on the fact that they were discussing a bylaw and not a particular business. That said, the business (also intentionally not named in this article) was clearly the elephant in the room.
This was a no-win situation for Council. On finalizing approval for this bylaw, they will in all likelihood face a lawsuit from the family neighbouring the elephant-in-the-room business, as Council has allowed this business to operate illegally for the past 16 years. During that time, the property on which said business operations shifted from farmland to clear industrial usage. This has impacted the neighbouring property’s resale value as well as their enjoyment of life on their property. And they have been bringing this to the attention of Council for years (bylaw enforcement is complaints-driven in Sooke). Cease and desist orders were issued, and duly ignored.
Had Council not approved the housekeeping bylaw and then subsequently undone the bylaw modification, they may have faced a law suit from said business owner, who has been able to continue operating illegally for the past 16 years. It could even be said that the District endorsed the business, as they have periodically and repeatedly contracted that business in the past.
At Monday’s final public hearing, only people who opposed this housekeeping item spoke up. Historically, the business in question has always had a voice in the conversation. At yesterday’s hearing, their participation was not required, as Council ultimately approved the house keeping item with the support of five. Opposed were Councillors Parkinson and St-Pierre.
Documentation considered by Council
- Public Hearing and consideration of 3rd reading. PH 1 Pkg – Bylaw 726.
- E. Lewers Submission
- D. Lewers Submission
Public hearing input considered by Council
Ellen Lewers addressed the scope of changes, and the language used in the motion. She drew attention to the fact that the number of non-conforming properties were unknown. She also felt that an OCP review that involved the public must come first. She also noted that the District was not allowed to help out individual businesses. Yet, this entire bylaw is to accommodate one single business owner, and in this case, the District appears to be working to help one specific illegal business. There have been too many incongruities and misinformation.
Gail Hall asked about the Sooke zoning bylaw. She pointed out that many of the current uses allowed under the zone are not allowed by the business in question. Council should have handled this a long time ago, it shouldn’t have been left to the public to deal with. This is a result of past councils mismanagement. It’s up to you, Council of today, to fix it. “Start doing your job.”
Richard Lewers spoke briefly and to the point, simply asking, “Would any of you support this operation next to your own home?”
Derek Lewers presented a power point presentation. SPN will be presenting his closing statements in a separate post. In his presentation, he showed a decision-tree that followed all possible choices and all possible outcomes from his perspective. The shortest and speediest path to resolution, according to his tree, was to rollback this bylaw modification and shut down the business. Either way, he pointed out, the District was facing a lawsuit. This conversation been going on for two years and three months. As far as the business owner goes, he’s known forever that his business was not legal. The municipal government appears to be accommodating this business owner, and not invoke “too much hardship” on this business owner. “How much more time must we give him?” Derek asked, adding that the business owner has not lost one day of work despite the past two years of Council discussion. Derek emphasized, it’s been two years and three months, plus 16 years of anguish for this family. The District repeatedly has refused to uphold the law.
Jen Smith stated her opposition to the motion and hoped they vote against it. She asked for deferral for three months until the necessary plan were done. If they proceed with this, she felt they were allowing an illegal business to shape the future of Sooke.
Cam McIntyre asked for clarity, what taxes have been paid so far? The answer was refused, as this is a zoning bylaw hearing and not a hearing on a particular business. He sought clarity on how the property is being treated. The mayor said this bylaw hearing is a housekeeping item, and refused to single out one entity as it wasn’t relevant to this meeting.
Councillor Parkinson noted she spoke with a few legal non-conforming businesses in the gateway area. Will they have to go through this process? Staff noted this would only apply to illegal non-conforming businesses and that no one was about to close down a legal non-conforming business. If legally non-conforming businesses wanted to conform, they will have to pay the appropriate fees and go through the appropriate process. She also asked about the formal definition around the parameters of a historic non-conforming designation, which is currently undefined. Mayor Tait recalled that “historical” meant any business that had been in business before 2010, and that the uses were never legal under any designation. Tait noted that this changes nothing for the legal non-conforming businesses. “This doesn’t change anything for that.”
Councillor Logins noted that businesses involved in legal matters with the District could not be named, as that was in-camera business. She stated that this permit process allows the District to have control over the process, something that is not guaranteed if the matter is left to a law suit to resolve. She supports the text amendments, because it allows the District to act on it.
Councillor St-Pierre found this issue “gut-wrenching.” He’s concerned about the workers at the property, the neighbours, and the amount of staff time that this item consumes. Now is a good time for council to show good governance, he said. There’s no need to follow through on bad process. Law suits are inevitable. It’s beyond messy. He would be in favour of tabling it, but that’s not an option right now. He also made the observation that industrial land is available in Sooke, that that zoning already exists.
Councillor Beddows agreed this was a gut-wrenching problem. It would have been nice if previous councils dealt with it, but they didn’t, and “here we are today.” We are due to the review the OCP. If we go through with this amendment, permits must be very short term. This council must deal with it. He supports this motion. Mayor Tait noted that the last OCP review and rewrite took four years; typically the OCP can be wrapped up in two years. A previous attempt at revising the OCP, initiated in 2016, was halted as the District lost their planning staff. Speedy action based on an OCP rewrite was not likely.
Councillor Bateman asked if the district was indeed aiding and abetting or normalizing illegal operations. The response from Mayor Tait was that the District was turning its attention to creating compliance, which was the flip side of the same coin. She pointed out that of the 900 properties in the gateway zone, it really only affects businesses that are historical non-conforming, and that number is unknown. P76 in the OCP has the term historic non-residential land uses, so something pre-existed. Staff noted the definition was done by Council at third reading. So, it could be said that the definition was done on the fly.
The final vote
Ultimately, Mayor Tait and Councillors Bateman, Beddows, Logins and McMath voted to support the motion; Councillors Parkinson and St-Pierre opposed it. The motion carried.
Present: Mayor Maja Tait, and Councillors Jeff Bateman, Al Beddows, Ebony Logins, Megan McMath, Brenda Parkinson, and Tony St-Pierre
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Also on the matter of temporary use permits in the Gateway area covered by SPN:
- Applicant driving the temporary use permit misses deadline to apply
- One single business (who the Gatewood Residential rezoning wasn’t about) has until the end of Feb to apply
- Sooke seals the deal, allows temporary use permits in Gateway area
- 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
- Letter: Tonight’s agenda includes allowing temporary business permits
Other matters discussed at the January 14 2019 Council meeting:
- Last ditch effort to scrap temporary use permits: Transcript of Lewer’s presentation
- Sooke Council to champion expanded advertising options at AVICC
- Council waffles on addressing remuneration, frozen for more than a decade
- Sooke Lions present Musical Ride stats and plaque to Council
- Sookarama: Local Lions initiate Sooke-centric business trade show
- Sooke seals the deal, allows temporary use permits in Gateway area
- Nine Sooke employees recognized for length of dedicated service
- Council did not support the removal of 7166 West Coast Road from the ALR
- Sooke settles on two-seater Timberwolf toilets at John Phillips Memorial Park