At hearing on Lime Rock Park, concerns over Sunday racing

SALISBURY — At a public hearing of the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) Tuesday, Sept. 8, on proposed changes to the zoning regulations concerning Lime Rock Park, there were too many people for the upstairs meeting room at Town Hall. The hearing was recessed and moved across Main Street to the Congregational Church, where it began in earnest at 7 p.m.

The buzz in the crowd was that the track was trying to get Sunday racing — three days, 10 days, depending on who was talking.

In fact, the track’s attorney, Jim Robertson, did mention that the track has filed to modify the injunction that prohibits Sunday racing to allow for one Sunday race day.

But Sunday racing was not the subject of the hearing. 

The proposed amendments to the regulations are: to add a definition of motor vehicle; to amend section 221.1 (Track for Motor racing Vehicles); and to amend sections 205.2 (Table of Uses — Rural Enterprise; Commercial and Industrial Zones) and 205.3 (Table of Accessory Uses).

P&Z Chairman Michael Klemens announced at the beginning that the commission intended to continue the hearing on Oct. 19.

He then established the parameters of the hearing.

“This is not about Sunday racing,” he said. 

He also said the hearing was not a forum to either praise the auto racing track or complain about it.

He asked for civility, and that the audience refrain from cheering or booing.

“This is a proposal of the Planning and Zoning Commission,” he stated, adding that the commission’s goal is to find a balance between the activities of the track and the concerns of the track’s immediate neighbors.

The proposed changes include adding accessory uses (camping, overnight parking in the track outfield, and the hours the track entrance and the “back road” may be open); and signs that are not “consistently visible from off the premises.”

The proposal added the state Department of Transportation’s language defining a motor vehicle to the regulations.

And the most controversial change — adding the language from the court injunction that has governed track activities into the regulations.

P&Z attorney Chuck Andres said the current regulations (from 2013) refer to the injunction. He said the thinking behind putting the injunction into the regulations is that someone looking to find out what is and isn’t allowed at the track shouldn’t have to refer to a third-party document.

Lime Rock Park’s attorney, Robertson, said the track was opposed to the proposed changes. 

He said he did not think it appropriate that the commission put a “50-year old injunction” in the regulations. (The original injunction, the result of a lawsuit, was issued in 1959. It has been modified since, but the prohibition on Sunday racing has remained the primary feature.)

Robertson said such a change would amount to “micromanagement of the track” by the commission, and exceeds its authority.

Robertson also said that the track has indeed filed to change the injunction again, to allow for one day of racing per year on a Sunday.

Sarah Wolfe, a neighbor and speaking for the Lime Rock Citizens Council, said the group of 160 members does not wish to “shut down the track” or make life difficult for it.

She said the group only organized when they learned the track “wants to disturb the status quo” and that it supports the proposed regulatory changes.

Despite Klemens’ admonitions at the beginning of the hearing, the people who did speak were mostly critical of the track, by a margin of 15 to 6.

Among the complaints: noise, traffic, a negative effect on real estate values.

Track supporters said they moved to Lime Rock because of the track, not in spite of it, and warned of a negative  economic impact should the track cease operations.

A longer version of this article will appear in the Sept. 17 print edition of The Lakeville Journal.