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Ordinance on ballot to regulate racetracks


March 03, 2010
DALTON Voters in Dalton will decide next week whether they wish to adopt an ordinance solely to deal with how racetracks are built and operated in their town. More than 80 petitioners signed their names to get the issue put on the small town's warrant and an ad hoc group of residents and neighbors crafted the five page ordinance using the one adopted by the town of Effingham a number of years ago.

Lila Nilsen, one of the voters who was in on the design of the ordinance said that little was changed in Effingham's original text, other than to change the municipality name to Dalton where necessary. "We adapted it a little, but not much," Ms. Nilsen said. She noted that the group specifically chose the Effingham ordinance because it had been legally tested and was upheld by the N.H. Supreme Court in 2002. This, she said, means the ordinance is unlikely to cost the town a lot in legal fees from challenges since the language has already been proven.

Ms. Nilsen said that the ordinance is written in accordance with the law and regulates or manages racetrack development and does not prohibit it. She pointed out a previous survey of Dalton residents that showed more than 80 percent of the town felt that the rural character of the municipality was important to them and said that this could go a long way toward protecting that character if it passes.

The Effingham case was based on similar circumstances to those playing out in Dalton. In 1997 a property owner announced his plans to build a racetrack on his property in Effingham — which, like Dalton, had no zoning in place and the town responded by enacting a restrictive ordinance, which required a licensing process.

For more than a year, Doug "Chick" Ingerson has spoken to the town about his desire to build a drag-racing strip on his Dalton property. He has made substantial investment toward that end, as well, applying for state permits to construct the paved racing surface and contracting the engineering for design.

Since his property sits between Forest Lake in Dalton and Mann's Hill in Littleton and is accessed through Bethlehem, the neighbors in these three towns, as well as some in Whitefield have opposed the plan speaking out in public hearings conducted by the Department of Environmental Services as part of the application process for a wetlands dredge and fill permit. The lack of local oversight was highlighted at these meetings and concerned residents took the matter into their own hands by presenting the ordinance on the ballot.

Since last summer's DES hearing, Mr. Ingerson has withdrawn his wetlands permit application. He told Executive Councilor Ray Burton at a tour of the property in January that he plans to redesign the track so it will have no wetlands impact. That process in underway, he said.

The racetrack ordinance that goes before Dalton voters at Town Meeting on March 9, requires an annual licensing of any racetrack with an application fee of $100 per year and annual performance bond (or other security) of at least $50,000. It gives the Selectmen the power to license the tracks and approval over a calendar of events for the year, which must be submitted in advance. The ordinance restricts what types of vehicles can be run on the tracks in certain months motor vehicles from April 20 through Oct. 20 and snowmobiles from Oct. 20 to April 20. It also limits the hours eight per day, including warm-ups to begin no earlier than noon and end no later than 10 p.m. It also sets the maximum number of events at 20 with no more than three rain dates. No alcohol would be allowed on the property while open for public racing events.

The ordinance also outlines the application process and requirements. Any racetrack applicant would be required to provide, in writing, a schedule of yearly events; the number, location and qualification of security officers; traffic control measures; drainage facilities; lighting concerns for safety, glare onto adjacent property, and type, which is restricted to white non-sodium; noise control; access, egress and emergency access; EMS and fire suppression services location, number and qualifications of personnel and equipment; off street parking; vegetative screen of 50-feet and a sound absorbing wall; location of permanent lavatory facilities and septic systems, wells, spectator areas, lighting, landscaping, trash receptacles, etc., and all other site features; adequate fencing to secure access to the track and parking area.

Once the town receives these items, the selectmen would be required to hold an annual public hearing before deciding on whether to grant the application. The ordinance also gives the town the power to inspect the facility, with or without notice or consent, for compliance. The proposal limits the amount of noise allowed to be generated, sets a mandatory minimum of $2 million of liability insurance, as well as minimum police fire and EMS coverage for events, which would be the fiscal responsibility of the track owner. It also sets fine amounts for violations of the ordinance, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 and allows the selectmen to revoke or suspend the license for cause.

Ms. Nilsen said that this ordinance is for any racetrack that could be built in Dalton. "At this point, this is not directed at Mr. Ingerson," she said, noting he recently withdrew his state dredge and fill application. With no regulations in place she, noted that many people were concerned about the possible impact of a racetrack on the local environment and property values and felt this was the best way to address it, since the selectmen turned down an earlier request to craft an ordinance at the town level.

Despite that refusal, chairman of the board of selectmen Brian Hardy said in a campaign interview that he supports this ordinance as a way to manage Dalton's growth. He noted that a zoning committee has been working under the Planning Board to explore the possibility of introducing zoning in Dalton, and Mr. Ingerson is among their number. "This is part of the process," Ms.Nilsen said. Now, "It's up to the townspeople."

Mr. Ingerson did not immediately return calls for comment on this issue.

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