October 02, 2013BETHLEHEM — Although not on the agenda, the topic of the Dalton drag strip was discussed at last Wednesday's planning board meeting. The course of the board's conversation did not go the way Mary Lou Krambeer hoped.
Krambeer is a member of North Country Alliance for Balanced Change. That organization strongly opposes the drag strip idea. Property owner Douglas Ingerson has considered the project for several years.
The possible Dalton racing oval has attracted the board's attention because the site is accessed from Douglas Drive. That road begins in Bethlehem at Route 116. Several abutters in Bethlehem, including Krambeer, have property that would be impacted by the Dalton drag strip.
At previous meetings, the board has noted Bethlehem's limited jurisdiction. The town could review how traffic to and from the drag strip impacts Douglas Drive, but Bethlehem cannot control what happens in Dalton.
After a conceptual meeting in August, the board wrote to request that Ingerson provide a site plan review application. The board's letter states that the section of Douglas Drive in Bethlehem is the reason for the request.
The site plan review process would determine if the drag strip's traffic would impact the road. Ingerson has made improvements to Douglas Drive to gain a state driveway permit for a drag strip. In August, he informed the board that 500 cars could be expected at racing events.
Krambeer grew concerned at last week's meeting when some board members wondered if the recent letter to Ingerson was appropriate. Vice Chairman Pat Doughty said he requested legal advice from a Local Government Center attorney. Based on the LGC input, Doughty said, "Planning boards cannot go out looking for work."
Board members noted that they have received differing thoughts from attorneys on the matter. As selectmen's representative Sandy Laleme said, " We've talked to three different lawyers. We have three different opinions."
At the August meeting, Doughty voted against sending Ingerson the site plan review request letter. Laleme, and all others who voted, favored sending the letter. However, last week Laleme said the new legal advice caused her to wonder if the board can compel site plan review on the adequacy of Douglas Drive.
"We had the best of intentions," Laleme said regarding the board's interest in sending the letter. Member Dave Wiley agreed. "I don't think we acted capriciously or arbitrarily," he said.
The discussion among board members drew comments from Krambeer. She first stated that Doughty was biased on the drag strip issue. After a retort from Doughty, other board members defended his conduct.
Nonetheless, Krambeer continued to wonder about what the board will do. She said the matter has been discussed at planning board meetings several times. Krambeer declared, "This is ridiculous." She was upset about the delay in getting site plan review on an issue with "obvious impact on my neighborhood."
Krambeer then asked, "What is going on here?" She said the board had "a really random and circuitous process."
Laleme spoke in the board's defense. She said the process is moving forward. She suggested that Krambeer let the process play out. Laleme added that the board should take time to review such subjects, especially when the board receives differing legal input.
Member Harold Friedman provided additional comments. To Krambeer, he said, "We're not an enforcing agency." As the board discussed, the selectmen are responsible for enforcement of town requirements.
Krambeer added that she respects the board's long hours of volunteer time. However, she was concerned that the board's process "is not making sense."
Laleme concluded the discussion by repeating her request for patience. Regarding the board's work on the drag strip issue, she said, "It's messy, but we'll get there."