A hearing to receive public input on a controversial amendment to the Sooke official community plan, or OCP, evolved into heated arguments that pitted neighbour against neighbour and nearly resulted in a fist fight in the parking lot, says Coun. Brenda Parkinson.
At issue was an amendment to the bylaw that would allow an application for a temporary use permit for a non-residential use to be applied for in the Gateway Residential areas.
The whole issue came to the forefront last year when it was learned council did not have the authority to issue a business licence to Shawn Driver of Driver Enterprises, a fabrication and welding shop as well as a site for automotive repairs and sales that was located in an area designated as residential and which was in violation of the OCP.
Following the heated debate on the issue, council narrowly adopted a bylaw that amended the OCP to permit, by temporary use permit, the continuation of historic non-conforming non-residential uses.
That bylaw option was adopted upon the advice of legal counsel and muncipal staff who pointed out that Driver’s business was not the only such non-conforming operation in the area.
“This turned into a neighbour against neighbour issue and that was a travesty. The point is that this is an area of some 900 homes and this amendment will open the floodgates for people to say that they, too, should have the right to open a business in that area,” Parkinson said.
“I spoke to a woman who wanted to open a kennel operation and had been denied. She’s saying she should have just done it. Another person said they want to open a paint shop and doesn’t see why, just because they followed the rules in the past, they should be denied now.”
But Coun. Rick Kasper, who voted for the bylaw, maintained that the OCP amendment is specific to those businesses already operating in the area.
“We did this on the advice of staff and legal counsel in an effort to avoid a long, expensive legal battle,” said Kasper.
“Driver’s operation has been around for 10 years and the district has actually done business with him on eight separate occasions. How can we now tell him he is in violation and has to close down?”
Kasper went on to say that other businesses in the area are in a similar situation and that what would be required would be a full re-vamping of the OCP to address the issues.
“People want to hang their hat on the OCP, but they’d soon find their hat on the ground. This OCP is the worst document (of its kind) that I’ve seen in 29 years in public office. This OCP is a joke.”
Driver now has 60 days in which he can apply for a permit to continue his operation and Parkinson noted that the decision on whether to grant the application will be up to the next council.
“I’m hoping that they make that permit contingent upon his having to remediate the creek that runs along his property and put a fence up to safeguard that creek. That would, I think, go a long way to calming the situation,” Parkinson said.
“And, of course, until he is granted a permit, he really should be stopping all work at his shop.”