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Even with application request, board sees limited powers over drag strip

September 04, 2013
BETHLEHEM — Last Wednesday the planning board approved a motion to request a change in use application for the proposed Dalton drag strip. Douglas Drive, the primary access to the site, starts in Bethlehem at Route 116. This, the board concluded, provides limited jurisdiction for town review of possible road impact.

The drag strip idea has been debated for several years. Douglas Ingerson, who owns the site, has a DOT permit for the facility. Douglas Drive could bring as many as 500 cars to drag strip races.

Ingerson was not at last week's board meeting.

Several abutters outside of Dalton have raised concerns about regional impact of the drag strip. Nonetheless, towns outside of Dalton, which lacks zoning, do not appear to have the ability to control activities inside Dalton.

Douglas Drive offers Bethlehem a potential to have some say. Nonetheless, several board members noted last Wednesday that they have limited power beyond a review of impact on the road. Additionally, only about a quarter mile of Douglas Drive goes through Bethlehem.

Earlier in August, the town's powers were debated at a conceptual meeting. At that meeting, Phil Hastings, Ingerson's attorney, questioned the board's ability to require an application for any change in use.

After that conversation, the board voted to seek legal advice. Input received from the board's attorney was the primary matter discussed last week.

Wednesday's meeting first centered on whether the board wished to waive attorney-client privilege. After deciding it would be good to have a public discussion of the legal advice it received, the board unanimously voted to waive the privilege.

The legal question centered on town power to require site plan review. Selectman representative Sandy Laleme suggested that the board's sole jurisdiction involved whether Douglas Drive could sustain traffic from the drag strip.

Opponents of the drag strip suggest the town review the regional impact stemming from the racing facility. Laleme saw the value of site plan review, however limited, but said Bethlehem cannot deal with regional impact.

Even with site plan review, Laleme noted the board might not end up with much say. After all, she said, Ingerson proposes additional automobile traffic on a road that currently serves logging purposes and an existing gravel business. "They're going from heavy trucks to lighter cars," she said.

This led Vice Chairman Patrick Doughty to wonder if the board should waive site plan review. He suggested the board was "trying to regulate a quarter mile of road." He added, "we already know the road's in good shape."

Ingerson made improvements around Route 116 as a condition for his DOT permit. That state approval noted the road would be used for traffic to and from the drag strip site.

As a result, Doughty questioned the board's power. "We're walking a fine line here," he said, referring to possible pushback from Ingerson.

Even with Doughty's dissent, the rest of the board agreed to request site plan review. The approved motion notes the town's power to review Ingerson's proposed change in use. The board will notify Ingerson that, "upon our research, and pursuant of RSA 674:53 II, we recommend you come before the Bethlehem Planning Board for change of use/site plan review for the section of Douglas Drive that extends from Route 116 to the Dalton town line."

A site plan review hearing would be open to the public. The timing of that hearing is not known. The board is not slated to meet again until September 25.

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