British Columbia

Council votes against race-track expansion despite owner's $60M lawsuit threat

A Vancouver Island district council has voted "no" to rezoning lands so that a race track can expand, despite risking a $60-million lawsuit threatened by the facility's owner should the expansion be denied.

Mayor said he received 'overwhelming' feedback against expansion, even though suit could double property taxes

The Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit is a 2.3-kilometre track with 19 turns north-west of Duncan that offers a playground for performance car enthusiasts. It opened in June of 2016. It was designed by a Formula 1 designer Hermann Tilke. (VIMC)

A Vancouver Island district council has voted "no" to rezoning lands so that a race track can expand, despite risking a $60-million lawsuit threatened by the facility's owner should the expansion be denied.

Municipality of North Cowichan council voted 6-1 against approving zoning for the Duncan-area Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit (VIMC) expansion after a six-hour public meeting stretched into early Tuesday morning.

Mayor Al Siebring said he changed his vote to "no" because of the strong public pressure to stop VIMC from tripling in size.

Siebring had previously warned voters that successful legal action from the track's owners, GAIN Group, could end up doubling property taxes in the municipality. 

Days before the vote, GAIN Group's lawyer sent a letter to the municipality warning it planned to sue to recoup all of its investments if the expansion zoning approval failed.

Drivers can choose from a fleet of high-end sports cars at the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit. (Vancouver Island Motor Sport Circuit)

Siebring said he was surprised more people didn't support the expansion as a result.

"The feedback that we received was overwhelming," Siebring said later Tuesday. "I was expecting considerable pushback from people saying, 'don't you dare turn this down because you know what the impact of the tax is potentially.'

"Seventeen [people] gave us that message and everybody else said: 'Stand firm. Don't be bullied. Get her done.'"

Coun. Tek Manhas cast the only vote in support of the zoning changes so the track could expand. Manhas said that expansion promised to bring more jobs and tourists to the Cowichan Valley, an area hit hard by the loss of forestry jobs.

"I'm disappointed by the results," said Manhas. "I think we are a very polarized community here now," he said.

The high-performance car testing circuit opened in 2016 on an 18-hectare site. The owners wanted to increase the facility over an additional 42 hectares of land they had bought.

Plans for the $36 million expansion included an off-road track and a new clubhouse.

Isabel Rimmer has been complaining about the noise from a track for high-end cars since it opened in 2016. She has lived on a property close to the site for 20 years. (Isabel Rimmer)

The early morning "no" vote brought relief for some residents, such as Isabel Rimmer, who lives near the track.

"We are elated that the threat of an expansion has been ameliorated, if not eliminated," said Rimmer, one of the 80 members of the Sahtlam Neighbourhood Association, which has demanded noise-reduction measures against VIMC for years.

While the expansion was denied, councillors did approve rezoning the existing track so that it won't be in jeopardy. 

On Oct. 25, North Cowichan's planning director questioned whether the first phase of the site had been zoned properly in 2013, after determining that the track was not a permitted use of industrial land in the municipality.

The final decision on how zoning of the initial site will be defined will be voted on in January.

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca or on Twitter or Instagram @ybrend

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