Sooke is considering an Official Community Plan amendment that has the potential to allow commercial businesses to operate in a large area of low-density residential properties by allowing temporary use permits – despite pleas from neighbours.
Council will hold a public hearing on Oct. 1.
Some call the proposed bylaw change precedent-setting and to the benefit of one “illegal business” only, while the owner of Driver Enterprises, which is at the eye of the controversy, said he has done everything the District of Sooke has asked of him over the last 16 years that the business has existed.
The OCP amendment will allow property owners in the Gateway residential zone to apply to council for a temporary use permit to legally operate until a new OCP is adopted with modifications that may allow for the existing non-conforming uses.
Currently, the OCP does not allow for temporary use permits in residential areas. (Temporary use permits allow council to apply conditions specific to the temporary uses and the permit expires after two years. No permanent structures can be built on a property with a temporary use permit.)
The OCP amendments alone will not legalize Sean Driver’s welding and fabrication operations at 5536 Sooke Rd., but rather provides a legal avenue for him and potentially other business owners in the area to apply to council for a temporary use permit to legally operate under non-conforming uses, stated a municipal staff report.
The change is intended for the Gateway residential corridor that starts near Roche Cove and ends at the eastern side of Sooke River bridge. That area also has a small pocket of Gateway residential on Sooke River Road between Soule and Kirby roads.
The proposed bylaw amendments will be part of an OCP review expected to begin next year. The last OCP update was done in 2010.
Driver’s operation has been under close scrutiny by neighbours since he opened 16 years ago, as what started as a small business has gradually grown over time to a small industrial site.
The municipality has faced several complaints about the business operating without proper zoning and and no business licence. Driver said he has never received a cease and desist letter, but corporate officer Carolyn Mushata said the district sent him a cease and desist letter in 2004.
“I’ve done everything I’ve been asked to do [by the District of Sooke],” Driver said. “I’ve been told to go this way – I’ve done it. I’ve taken avenues I’ve been directed to go.
“I feel like I’m being made an example of.”
Last September, council issued a business licence to Driver Enterprises, but it was later revoked and Driver was asked to submit a rezoning application. In reviewing the application, it was found the property did not comply with the OCP Gateway residential designation.
The proposed OCP bylaw amendments aren’t sitting well with neighbours who told council recently that Driver has “willfully and blatantly” broken multiple District of Sooke bylaws.
“Why are [taxpayers] being asked to foot the bill for an OCP amendment that has only come to council due to this one illegal property?” asked Derek Lewers, who resides at 5526 Sooke Rd.
“The owner has a want and desire while ignoring surrounding owners who bought their properties in good faith, knowing the zoning, and OCP in place.”
Most members of council said they’re in an awkward position as they try to find a solution to the problem.
“I completely empathize with all parties involved. It still provides no guarantee to the community, in terms of what’s going to happen or even certainty to the business,” said Mayor Maja Tait.
Coun. Kevin Pearson echoed Tait’s concerns, saying, “This is a compromised decision. We’re not solving this problem.”