After six years, the local U-Haul depot saw the last few trucks heading out of town for the last time, bound for Duncan and Sooke. No more will families moving to the area be able to drop their trucks and trailers in Lake Cowichan.
“We’re pretty sad to see this service leave Lake Cowichan,” said Lake Cowichan Furniture and Appliances Manager, Lorna Vomacka, who ran the depot out of their location on the corner of South Shore Road and West Cowichan Avenue.
“I had two calls this week from people wanting to rent trucks and I had to tell them, no sorry, the U-Haul is gone,” said Vomacka.
The problems for U-Haul first began some time ago, when repeated episodes of vandalism on the vehicles forced the operators to move them from their regular storage area.
“We used to park our trucks up on the hill by our store, but we had a lot of problems with vandalism, so moved them down to the street and parking lot in front of the shop,” said owner, Garth Sims.
Vomacka said that’s when they were first visited by Town of Lake Cowichan Bylaw Officer, Deborah Juch who told them that the vehicles could not be parked on the street.
“These are licensed vehicles parked on a public street, but we were told we had to move them,” said Vomacka.
According to Lake Cowichan Bylaw 759-2003 it is unlawful to park a vehicle on a public street for more than 72 hours continuously.
U-Haul received permission from Johel Brothers, who own the property directly across Cowichan Avenue, to park the vehicles on an empty gravelled area in the back of the lot. Vomacka also received permission from Countrywide Village Realty who occupies a business in the same block. Vomacka said that they were again told by the Bylaw Officer that they could not park the trucks there and also that they needed a separate business licence to operate the U-Haul.
“This is even though the trucks were parked on private property and we had the owner’s permission,” Vomacka said.
“I don’t recall ever getting into that business (of where the trucks were parked),” said Juch. “We just wanted the business to be licensed.”
In November of 2011, Vomacka received a letter from the town officially informing them that they were required to obtain a separate business licence for the U-Haul.
“I called my area manager and asked about the separate business licence and he said that no other U-Haul that he knew of, had to pay for a separate licence,” said Vomacka.
A U-Haul spokesperson stated that the necessity of a separate licence is determined by local bylaws in each city and town.
The situation heated up when Vomacka was informed by the Town that if a separate business licence was not purchased for the U-Haul operation by March 1st of 2012, Lake Cowichan Furniture would be fined $100 per day, for each day the U-Haul operated without a valid business licence.
“A separate licence is required for each business operation, even if it’s conducted by the same business entity or at the same address,” said Town of Lake Cowichan Bylaw Officer, Deborah Juch. “ This was clearly a separate business activity and required a separate licence.”
The question of when a separate licence is required is definitely open to interpretation. For neighbouring business owner Hans Van Den Heuvel, owner of Han’s Butcher Shop, the town’s stand was frustrating. In his view, it was far better to look out his window and see a few clean, well maintained U-Haul trucks, than to look out at the poorly maintained property directly opposite his shop.
“How is it that the bylaw officer is able to chase a business out of town in a matter of months with the threat of $100 a day fines and they can do nothing about the derelict buildings around here?” asked Van Den Heuvel.
Lake Cowichan bylaw 727-2001 states “that no owner or occupier of real property shall allow such property to become or remain unsightly”.
“Issues with standards of property maintenance are rare,” said Juch. “Where there is not an accumulation of rubbish or derelict vehicles there’s not a lot we can do.”
Both Vomacka and Van Den Heuvel state that the U-Haul was a boon to the local economy all over town. When a new family moved in and dropped their truck at the depot they were informed of all the local businesses in town.
“They’d say, oh great, you’ve got a butcher shop, is there a good place to eat and where can I get groceries,” said Vomacka. “We’d send them to local businesses all over town.”
Another bone of contention for Vomacka is the increase in cost and environmental impact caused by the local depot closing. A Lake Cowichan person wanting to rent a U-Haul must now drive to Duncan to pick up the truck, drive back to Lake Cowichan to load it, then back out through Duncan and on to their destination, then return to Duncan to drop off the truck and drive back to Lake Cowichan.
“That’s an extra minimum $21 charge for mileage, plus fuel, not to mention the environmental issues of all that extra travel,” said Vomacka. “Yet the town says we’re going green.”