By Dan Rankin
Perth South residents Ryan McKay and his 17-year-old son Brayden are well-known among RC (remote control) racing enthusiasts from around the region. On the grounds of the McKay’s home is what’s known as “The Barnyard RC Race Track,” where they have hosted racing tournaments for 1/5 scale RC vehicles for the past few years. A post on The Barnyard’s Facebook page from a couple years ago reads: “Awesome indoor clay track. Lots of great people and close competition. I can’t wait to go back week after week.” But recently, that indoor track in McKay’s 50-year old barn came to the attention of Perth South’s chief building official Martin Feeney, who found the facility wanting when it came to the township’s zoning by-laws. “On Oct. 13 during an inspection on my property it was noted that inside my barn I have activities for remote control car racing,” Ryan McKay told Perth South Council Tuesday morning. The building on Line 26 is zoned “agricultural,” but McKay, who was putting an addition on the back of the barn, was told that, due to the regular gatherings he holds there, steps had to be taken for the building to be zoned as an “assembly occupancy.” McKay told Council that the indoor track is mainly used during the winter, two or three times per month, by around 30 people. “I feel this is an extreme and very excessive interpretation of what the building is being used for,” McKay said. Throughout the township, many other things that do not strictly fall within the acceptable uses for agricultural buildings are permitted, McKay said. “If you wanted to apply the most pressure to every situation, there is nothing we can do in this township,” he said. “All the things everybody does on a daily basis could be restricted basically down to nothing other than direct farm use.” McKay said that, besides about 10 days per year when they hold races in the barn, the building does fit the accepted definition for “normal use” of an agricultural building with no more than one person per 40 square metres of floor space. “It’s no different than farm tours throughout the township, when they have open houses and you’ve got hundreds of people coming through farm buildings, school trips coming to the barn to learn about things, 4-H meetings, and different things like that,” he said. “When you have large groups going into a farm building, you are, at that point, over your occupancy load.” “It’s quite a stepping stone if we’re going to apply these by-laws to the extent, as I feel [it has been applied in this case],” he added. “All businesses in Perth South in agricultural buildings are not being used how they’re designed for, but yet they haven’t been put through this.” McKay also argued that their use of the building could be seen as agricultural, saying that, through the racing, his son has developed skills in machine repair and engineering that could be highly beneficial for a career in modern agriculture. “My 17 year old son wants to spend his Saturday out in the barn working,” he said. “He’s not out partying or doing anything else that a 17 year old is usually getting into. He’s very involved and active in this.” Brayden “almost runs the whole thing,” McKay said. “We have a computer program that operates and times all the cars. He runs that… At this point, Brayden is looking at going to university for computer programming. Will it ever be dealt with as agriculture? We don’t know. It could… In the end, he may not be milking a cow or ploughing a field, but we’re growing people’s future and improving the lives of others by being able to do some of these simple things.” McKay requested that the indoor RC racing be deemed an acceptable use under his current zoning. “The cost effectiveness to be able to apply every one of these zoning needs isn’t possible for a hobbyist,” he said, noting that they already have exit signs, fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide detectors and first aid kits on site. “The costs will be almost $3,000 just to do the zoning changes, to get an architect to come in to review the barn.” Deputy Mayor Jim Aitcheson said he was less concerned about proper zoning, but more worried about ensuring the safety of all who came out The Barnyard. “The big thing would be the fire safety to me, and a few of those issues,” he said, referencing the recent catastrophic fire at a warehouse in Oakland, California that left 35 people dead. “If something was done to that, to make sure it was more compliant, I don’t have a problem with it.” Feeney told Council that if McKay wishes to use the building for a purpose other than the one it was designed for, the building code requires that he get a ‘change of use’ permit. That would require meeting fire code regulations, looking at factors such as “egress, flame spread ratings of the materials there, and the smoke development of the material,” Feeney said. “The codes are law. They have to be adhered to for this occupancy if he wishes to use it as an assembly occupancy.” According to Feeney, “the zoning isn’t the priority here.” “It’s the building,” he said. “We don’t want to see anybody hurt.” Council recommended for McKay to work alongside Feeney and Perth East Fire Chief Bill Hunter to reach an agreement on operations and safety compliance for the building. “I congratulate you on what you’re trying to do and we hope you can work this out because it is important for young people to have a place to go and enjoy themselves,” Mayor Bob Wilhelm said.