CVRD Area A Director Daniel Arbour cast the deciding vote for race car testing | George Le Masurier photo
CVRD directors approve racecar testing at Smit Field for one year by 2-1 vote
Race car testing will continue at Smit Field next to Nymph Falls Nature Park, at least for another season, after Comox Valley rural directors voted 2-1 in favor of a scaled down permit.
The Vanisle Airfield Society, an association of drag racing enthusiasts, had applied for a three-year temporary use permit to test and tune their cars over three days, three times during the summer season. CVRD staff, however, recommended directors approve only a one-year permit with other limiting conditions, such as a cap on 30 cars per event.
But when Director Daniel Arbour (Area A) appeared ready to vote against the staff recommendation based on neighborhood concerns, Director Edwin Grieve (Area C) proposed limiting the three test and tune events to a single day. Grieve chairs the electoral services commission.
READ MORE: Get in-depth background on this issue here
But society president Ken Peterson said a one-day event wasn’t workable for the effort it takes to set up timing and lighting equipment and for out-of-town race car owners to travel to the Comox Valley.
Arbour then moved to approve two two-day events on a one-year basis. He and Grieve outvoted Area B Director Arzeena Hamir who voted against approving a temporary use permit.
The vote came after three neighborhood residents urged directors to deny issuing a permit and society representatives and the Smit Field owners tried to assure directors they were attempting to minimize negative impacts and actively seeking to secure a permanent site elsewhere.
Ron Bridge, a Forbidden Plateau Road resident since 1975, said he moved to the area before the Smit Field aerodrome was established for a quieter environment and to be closer to nature. He was instrumental in the founding of Nymph Falls park.
Bridge said the testing of drag racing cars is incongruous with the neighborhood’s lifestyle values and out of place next to a nature park. He asked the directors to preserve an area with natural wonders.
Two other neighbors spoke against the testing of drag racing cars, including a woman who said she walks in the park every day, but can’t go out of her house on days of the events.
“There must be a quieter way to raise money for charity,” she said.
CAR OWNERS TRYING
The Vanisle Airfield Society was formed in 2015 after Smit Field owners Dan Annand and Kevin Greissel offered their concrete runway for the testing and tuning of drag racing cars.
They held several events in violation of Comox Valley Regional District zoning bylaws before neighbors complained. The regional district then prohibited future events until the rural directors approved a temporary use permit.
Tania Woodbeck, speaking on behalf of the society, said the group was a network of friends and relatives and would never become more than that.
But she admitted during questioning from Director Hamir that a previous “invitational” event had attracted drag racing fans who were not members of the association, and who had engaged in harassing social media posts.
“It was bullying, for sure,” Woodbeck said, adding that they weren’t members of the society. She promised directors that inviting non-members wouldn’t ever happen again.
Woodbeck said the society is trying to be good community neighbors by raising money for charities during lunchtime barbecues and purchasing carbon tax credits to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.
Peterson said the society is only looking for a temporary location to test and tune its cars. He said they are actively looking for a permanent site elsewhere.
ARBOUR CASTS KEY VOTE
Before the Dec. 9 vote, it was commonly known that Director Hamir would vote against approving a permit and that Director Grieve would vote in favor. That put Director Arbour from Hornby Island in the position of deciding the issue.
Arbour said it was a hard choice for him, because it’s a “delicate thing to bring people together.” He said both sides and the three elected officials had been offended by some of the comments made prior to the meeting.
He called a temporary use permit a privilege, not a right.
And he said neighborhood concerns were strong and persistent.
“When I hear that people say they might move (as a result of the noisy events), it indicates an emotional charge,” he said. “This is difficult for me because you get elected to make everyone happy.”
In making the motion to approve two two-day events, Arbour specified that if they apply for another temporary use permit next year, he’ll require more concrete evidence that the society is, in fact, actively looking for a permanent site.
It was a hint that he didn’t envision issuing temporary use permits repeatedly.
Area B Director Arzeena Hamir said many of the property owners didn’t “sign up” for a temporary use permit to allow drag racing cars in the neighborhood.
She responded to a comment made by property co-owner Kevin Greissel that he could use his property as he wished.
“No, you can’t,” Hamir said. “We have rules around zoning and uses to be good neighbors.”
She would vote against the motion, Hamir said, because the activity is not allowed under the zoning and it’s having a negative impact on neighbors. She also noted that carbon offsets were not meant as an excuse for burning fossil fuels but to transition away from them.
Hamir said she worried that approving the permit would send a signal that testing drag racing cars in rural residential zoning was okaty.
She praised the society for raising money for charity, and said she hoped that whichever way the vote went that they would continue the practice.
GRIEVE RAMBLES ON
Before turning the discussion over to directors Arbour and Hamir, Commission Chair Grieve went on a long, rambling speech that at times lectured on the principles of democracy and other times invoked images of terrorists or insurgents.
He started off stating that “we live in a world of polarization, so we have to peel off the harassment piece.” Neighbors who have complained say they have been harassed on social media.
Grieve went on to say that nobody has been harassed more than elected officials and told stories about Lower Mainland and Victoria area public officials who were bullied on social media. He said, “especially women” were targets of people hiding behind pseudonyms.
He called the opposing views on testing drag cars at Smit Field a “clash of cultures … so there’s diversity.”
Whether or not the temporary use permit request was the “thin edge of the wedge,” to more frequent and varied events at Smit Field, Grieve suggested “we test and tune the test and tune.”
Grieve said he didn’t see the activity growing into “some uguly event,” and that a compromise shouldn’t be an “insufferable imposition.”
Realizing he was speaking at length, Grieve said, “Allow me some latitude here, I am the chair.” He then told a story of a hesitant person standing up to speak at a public meeting as an example of “what democracy is.” He praised everyone for speaking their opinion.
“We don’t have people wearing armbands riding around in pickup trucks with machine guns mounted on them,” he said.
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