On April 24, Anne and Gabriel Munier packed up the sculptures from their store front shop, The Art of Creation, on South Shore Road and relocated to Ladysmith. The couple had been selling their sculptures on consignment but after renting a house in Lake Cowichan decided that it would be a nice place to settle down and open a store front of their own.
However, Munier says that for the past few months they have struggled with the process to obtain a business licence from the town of Lake Cowichan. After months of no response from the town as to the status of their application they decided to go to Duncan and apply for an inter-municipal licence. Munier says that the Duncan office was polite, answered her questions and issued her a licence within a few days. “Despite so much time waiting for word from the Lake Cowichan office about obtaining a business licence, it took just one day after I communicated with them about our inter-municipal licence for them to inform me that I could not sell from our store with our inter-municipal licence. A few days later I applied for a regular business licence for the store front, and have received, once again, no response,” says Munier.
Munier says she can only guess that the lack of response stems from complaints from neighbouring businesses about the smell of resin from freshly delivered fiberglass moulds. Munier is not alone in her difficulties and confusion over business licence requirements. Lorna Vomaka, owner of Lake Cowichan Furniture and Appliances, says that for the past six years she has operated a U-Haul business out of her store and that suddenly she was told she would need to purchase a separate business licence for the U-Haul service. Vomaka says she agreed to pull the U-Haul service, but that doing so did take time. During that time, she was told by the then bylaw enforcement officer, Deb Juch, that if she did not have the U-Haul aspect of her business shut down by May 1, she would be charged $100 per day.
Vomaka says that it is not the cost of the $100 business licence that upsets her, but does feel that it is a money-grab when she is already paying approximately $1,500 a year in taxes to the town. She claims she was not making any money through the U-Haul service and provided it more as a service to the community. When she spoke with the U-Haul area manager in Duncan about the need for the separate business licence, she says he laughed and told her that he has never heard of a dealer needing a separate licence in order to operate a U-Haul service out of an existing business.
Rita Dustow, president of the local chamber of commerce, says that one of the main concerns local businesses have centres around this confusion over business licences. She is not sure why it is possible to use a store front licence to sell at a local market, but it is not possible to use a mobile licence to sell merchandise from a store front location. But she also sees this as part of a larger problem within Lake Cowichan. There is also the issue of the run-down and derelict buildings along South Shore Road. This issue was brought forward by the chamber to council at the meeting on April 24.
Dustow says that at this time the local bylaws are being looked over by the Advisory Planning Commission (APC) to assess which ones are working, and which ones need revising. Once the APC has come up with some recommendations, those recommendations will be sent back to council for approval. She says that the town and the chamber have worked for years to put together an official community plan, and that the bylaws need to be revised in order to appropriately reflect this plan.
Dustow says that in order to resolve these issues and move forward with business in Lake Cowichan, “we need to put the past behind us.” She is concerned that with development plans in Youbou, the town of Lake Cowichan could find itself left behind if it does not take advantage of the opportunities it currently has to attract new businesses to the area. “One or two businesses is great, but 10 is better. We have to find ways to draw businesses here; all of us.”
Dustow feels that the town needs a new vision when it comes to business, and whatever that vision is, the entire town needs to sit down and figure it out. Dustow does believe that the library and new town square planned for Lake Cowichan are a step in the right direction.
Joseph Fernandez, the chief administrative officer for Lake Cowichan, says that council agrees that the town needs a new vision, but when it comes to the bylaw revisions being done by the APC, he was not aware of that process. He also says there is no lack of transparency when it comes to Lake Cowichan bylaws, but if there is, the town is more than happy to sit down and talk with those who are concerned. “If they are not clear enough then we need to make them clearer. Obviously that is something that needs to be done; has to be done,” says Fernandez. He also says that Lake Cowichan bylaws are the same as those in the rest of the Cowichan Valley area. “They are no different in their legislation than Duncan, North Cowichan, or Ladysmith.” The fees and penalties are the same because there is an inter-municiapal agreement.
When it comes to the issue of run down buildings along South Shore Road, Fernandez says the solution the town is looking at is a split taxation process where the land would be assessed at a higher rate than the building assessment. “Because at some point they would say, the improvements are not costing us, it’s in not improving it that is where the cost is.” Fernandez says that this particular process was taken and proposed to the Union of Municipalities and was endorsed by that body, but the province refused to follow through with it.
As for the business licence issues, Fernandez says that if an established business begins to operate a new business under the same roof, business owners are required to obtain a second licence. He says that the chamber lifted a section of a bylaw and ignored a concluding section which states, “When a business entity undertakes new activities, a new business licence may be required.”
The town is currently looking over the package of the concerns presented to council by the chamber at the meeting on April 24. “Obviously we want to make sure those issues are resolved.”