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Club Motorsport denied again by Tamworth Planning Board

December 23, 2010
TAMWORTH — The same board that denied the application four years ago has once again sent Club Motorsports, Inc. (CMI) back to the drawing board. The planning board voted Dec. 14 to deny their application for a special use permit under the town's wetlands ordinance.

No new evidence was allowed and it was explained to the roomful of people at K.A. Brett Elementary School that though the hearing was public as required by law, there would be no public input permitted.

Town Attorney Richard Sager moderated the meeting using a procedure outline drawn up by citizens group Focus Tamworth. To sum up the reason for the night's meeting, Sager told the crowd that the planning board denied CMI's application for a special use permit on Nov. 8, 2006. CMI appealed that decision to Carroll County Superior Court. That court ruled that the planning board decision was insufficient in its explanation when it denied the application and ordered the board to be more specific in their reasons for the denial.

The superior court decision was appealed by Focus Tamworth to NH Supreme Court. But the high court agreed with superior court and sent the matter back the planning board to render a more specific response to CMI. That was in April. Moving ahead through spring, summer, and fall, the planning board again took up the issue last week.

Members present and voting were Steve Gray, Tom Peters, John Roberts, and David Cluff. Those not seated at the board that was in on the decision in 2006 were Wayne Lloyd, Howard Nordeen, and David Goodson.

First the boards agreed on which areas on the application are considered access areas to the property on Route 25W and which are project impact areas. They then all agreed that the Tamworth Wetlands Ordinance is indeed more stringent than the state or federal regulations. NH Department of Environmental Services and Army Corps of Engineers have already approved of CMI's plans.

CMI owns approximately 250 acres of land in Tamworth about two miles west of the junction of Routes 25 and 16 and has plans to build a private country club and motorsports facility, including a "3.1-mile long, European-style road course" and structures to support the repair, servicing, and garaging of racing vehicles. Plans also call for a hotel, restaurant, access road, and parking facilities.

Construction would involve dredging and filling 14,759 square feet of wetlands and would affect 16,952 square feet of intermittent streams. In total, construction would affect at least 16 distinct wetlands areas. A first-of-its-kind concept for New England, the $28 million Valley Motorsports Park development would feature a road course that would be available for use by its members, much as a golf course country club operates, according the CMI Web site www.clubmotorsports.com. CMI previously obtained a dredge-and-fill permit, a site-specific alteration-of-terrain permit and a water quality certification from the N.H. Department of Environmental Services. The company also has obtained a wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As part of its approval, the DES required CMI to provide a conservation easement on 107 acres of land in neighboring Sandwich to mitigate the negative environmental impact of the project.

The Tamworth planning board, at last week's hearing then turned to the wetlands ordinance, section seven, where they agreed to rely mainly on the findings of the conservation commission and deny the application for special use permit. They agreed CMI did not meet the criteria set forth in the ordinance. Unlike the state and federal wetlands rules, Tamworth's ordinance prohibits any sort of mitigation of wetlands or conservation easement in exchange for disturbing wildlife's habitat. The board agreed CMI's application does not protect wildlife habitats, protect potential water supplies, or "encourage those low-intensity uses that can be harmoniously, appropriately and safely located in wetlands."

The two-hour meeting came to a close with the board voting once more 4-0 that CMI failed to meet the criteria of a special use permit. CMI can appeal this decision to Carroll County Superior Court.

Focus Tamworth was formed in 2004. In its creation papers filed with NH Secretary of State's Office, the non-profit group's mission is "to preserve and enhance the town's quality of life through continued citizen input, supporting careful and fair initiatives and regulations that protect Tamworth's economic and natural resources." The founding officers were Tamworth residents David Little, Tom Vachon, Kate Thompson, Margaret Johnson, and Kate Vachon. Annual report documents filed with the state this month include only Kate Vachon and Charles Greenhalgh as the organization's officers. Also in the bylaws, there is a statement indicating that if the organization is ever dissolved, any remaining assets will go to Green Mountain Conservation Group in Effingham. Though listed on the secretary of state's office as a non-profit, Focus Tamworth is not listed as a registered charity with the attorney general's office. State law requires all charities to register with that office and then file annual financial reports.

CMI has been the talk around Tamworth since April 2003 when the idea was first introduced. The town has no zoning ordinance, so in summer 2003, a group of citizens banded together and drafted the Tamworth Racetrack Ordinance. It went into effect in October 2003 and was affirmed by voters at March 2004 town meeting.

In January 2004, NH Senate Bill 458, which was drafted by CMI, was recommended for passage without discussion and passed the House and Senate without debate then was signed into law as NH RSA 287:G-1 by then governor Craig Benson. No Carroll County sponsors were on the bill and it came as a surprise to town officials and others in Tamworth. The law exempts "private driving and exhibition facilities" from regulation under racetrack laws and ordinances. CMI has always maintained that the facility they plan to construct is not a standard racetrack but rather a members-only driving course that winds through the woods.

At the beginning of the 2005 state legislative session, then-NH Reps. Harry Merrow, David Babson, Betsey Patten, Howard "Crow" Dickinson, and Donald Philbrick co-sponsored HB90 which would have allowed for the new definition to remain and also allow for these facilities to be regulated under racetrack ordinances. The bill passed the House but failed in the NH Senate.

At town meeting in March 2005, voters passed the Tamworth Noise Ordinance for the sole purpose of regulating noise at private driving instruction and exhibition facilities.

All of the town's ordinances as well as planning board minutes dating back to 2006 can be found at the Town of Tamworth website at www.tamworthnh.org.

[Editor's Note: Please see a letter from CMI Vice President of Marketing Jim Hoenscheid responding to the planning board decision on page A8.]

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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