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Residents ask Dalton selectmen to enact racetrack ordinance


September 02, 2009
DALTON—Residents concerned about a proposed drag strip presented a petition to the Board of Selectmen Monday night with signatures from 117 residents asking the board to enact a temporary racetrack ordinance.

The ordinance, which would create a set of guidelines potential racetracks in town would have to follow, would remain in effect until town meting in March, when voters would decide whether to accept it permanently.

Property owner Doug Ingerson, who owns around 2,000 acres in Littleton, Bethlehem and Dalton, has plans to build a quarter-mile long dragstrip in the next few years. It would be lit at night and have seating for up to 1,000 spectators. It would be located in Dalton off Route 116 near the borders of Littleton, Bethlehem and Whitefield.

The petition was presented by resident Gregory Odell during the board's regular meeting Monday night in the town hall. In the past, board members had said they wanted to hear from residents as it seemed to them much of the concern about the dragstrip came from outside the town.

Odell said there were unanswered concerns about whether the Fire Department would have to assign personnel to the track or whether the Police Department would have to become fulltime to have sometime at the track at all times.

"Will we have to have an ambulance there? A pumper and crew?" Odell said.

Odell said the petition drive was aimed only at residents of Dalton. He said he knew of a number of other people prepared to sign the petition. His group was not a formal group, more of an ad hoc one formed to circulate the petition, he said.

"The purpose of a race track ordinance is to protect the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens, to protect the degradation of the environment, the diminution of property values and generally to protect the quality of life in the town of Dalton," Odell said, reading directly from the petition.

Odell said the purpose of the petition was not to oppose the dragstrip but to empower the voters to have a say about the project.

Selectman Mike Crosby asked Odell if any of the representatives of his group had approached Ingerson.

Resident Nila Nilsen said three people had met with Ingerson earlier in the summer and toured the property but their concerns were not alleviated.

Selectman Vic St. Cyr made a motion that the board consider the petition, a motion that Board Chair Brian Hardy objected to.

"Taking it under consideration is the same thing as tabling it," Hardy said.

St. Cyr said no decision could be made without first considering a legal opinion from town counsel about whether the selectmen had the authority to enact a temporary ordinance on its own authority, or whether the entire issue had to wait until town meeting in March.

Odell said towns in southern New Hampshire had adopted similar ordinances that had stood up against court challenges.

Crosby said no one was against the ordinance itself but against its timing.

"This has been in the works for a long time and suddenly is coming up," Crosby said.

Odell said that was because there had not been much information about the proposed dragstrip until earlier this year

Earlier this year there was a hearing held by the Department of Environmental Services about the wetlands that would be affected by the project, a meeting attended by around 200 people. Later there was an informational meeting before the Littleton Select Board attended by around 50 people.

None of the meetings have been able to have any direct impact on the project as Dalton has no zoning ordinance. While surrounding towns note the project has regional impact, they cannot affect what happens in Dalton.

Hardy said that later this month the issue of creating a zoning ordinance in Dalton would be discussed by the Planning Board, noting there seems to be support in town for it.

There has never been a vote on a zoning ordinance in the town before, he said.

St. Cyr said such a project would take time, however, a year or perhaps a year-and-a-half.

"We need a balance between business, the environment and the community," Crosby said.

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