Board hears new race track request

Escanaba Township property owner Robert Barron addresses public concerns expressed about his proposal to develop a year-round race track in the township during a special meeting Monday. (Daily Press photo by Jenny Lancour)

FLAT ROCK — A decision on an Escanaba Township resident’s request to operate a year-round race track on private property is expected to be reached by the township board when it meets for its regular meeting on Feb. 13.

Following a public hearing during a special meeting attended by more than 40 people Monday, the board requested additional information on the proposal from Robert Barron, who wants to develop a race track on land he owns north of County 420 21st Road, currently the site of an operating sand quarry.

On Jan. 2, Barron submitted an application to the township requesting approval of a zoning compliance permit to operate a “racing park.”

His son, Mitchell Barron, provided the township with additional information on the family’s proposal stating racing would be held from Dec. 1 through April 15 and from May 15 to Oct. 15 for both day and evening races concluding by 11 p.m.

Mitchell Barron stated potential uses of the track would be “ice track, dirt track, motorized, and non-motorized racing” with the entryway to the track being an existing private road on the east side of the property.

Following public comments from more than a dozen people, the board requested more information from Robert Barron on the proposal so a vote could be taken on the permit application at the township’s next meeting.

During Monday’s special meeting, the township’s attorney, Terry Burkhart, outlined the process of the permit application and what options the board has on rendering a decision including taking the issue under advisement, denying the application, or granting all or part of the proposal with or without specific conditions.

Stating the process is “far more than a thumbs up, thumbs down” decision, Burkhart explained he had presented a draft resolution for consideration by the board — with no decision on the application request.

Burkhart read the permit application, named the applicants, verified publication of the special meeting notices in local papers, and recommended the board submit all documents to date as exhibits including maps and any written correspondence for or against the permit.

After Township Supervisor Ken Brunette read two letters from township residents opposing the race track proposal, more than a dozen people went up to the podium to present comments, including Robert and Mitchell Barron.

Robert Barron’s brother, Pat Barron, spoke in favor of the race track and asked the board to “find a way to make it work” for the benefit of kids and families.

Other individuals speaking at Monday’s public hearing included neighboring property owners and other township residents expressing concerns about the proposed race track including loud noise, dust, exhaust pollution, increased traffic, parking, fencing, concessions, safety and security, property devaluation, road maintenance, ordinance noncompliance, and ordinance enforcement.

Residents wanted to know more about the proposal such as what type of vehicles would be racing, what days and times racing would take place, if alcohol would be available, and what is the definition of a racing “park.”

One resident, unable to attend Monday’s public hearing, opposed the race track in a letter to the board, adding the township had already “wasted tax dollars” on legal fees regarding a race track Barron constructed east of N.7 Lane years ago.

In a court ruling issued in January 2015, Delta County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Davis supported Escanaba Township’s decision to deny a rezoning request from Barron, who wanted to resume ice racing on a track built without required permits in 2011.

Following public comments Monday, Barron addressed the public’s concerns at the podium, stating, “What we propose is a permitted principal use.”

He said noise studies on the former race track were inconclusive and that other noises exist in the proposed track area including the highway, the railroad, the paper mill, a shooting range, and river ice racing.

He said a concession stand would be likely at the racing park and camping could be an issue, but he didn’t know because the race track is a developing business.

Regarding alcohol, he said two nearby stores sell alcohol, but he himself does not drink alcohol.

As far as what vehicles would be involved in the racing, he said it would include what people want.

When the Daily Press questioned Barron after the meeting, he said the races could consist of any three of the same vehicles in a contest. This could include quads, motocross, three-wheelers, four-wheelers, Sprint cars, go carts, snowmobiles, cars and trucks.

While addressing the public’s concerns during the meeting, Barron said he is “a strong advocate of property rights” and said the use of one’s property should be allowed by what the market dictates in “a capitalistic system.”

He also said he’s heard of the saying, “Not in my backyard.”

“This is nobody’s backyard but mine, the Barron’s family,” he said loudly, repeating the use of the property will be determined by market demand.

Barron also claimed there are “hundreds of violations” in the township which are not being enforced. But if you’re a member of the Barron family then “you’re going to go through this meat grinding,” he said.

“We’re going to see what kind of games you’re going to play here,” he told the township board.

“This entire ordinance is illegitimate,” Barron added, claiming the ordinance was written in secrecy and in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

Barron also questioned why the township brought its attorney for the board’s consideration of a zoning permit.

“This doesn’t pass the smell test,” Barron commented.

Mitchell Barron offered the board additional information on the proposal stating the track is 850 feet away from the nearest home. He explained the track would be four feet below the field level surrounded by an eight-to-15-foot berm for fans to park their vehicles and watch the races.

After brief discussion by the board, Brunette said more information needs to be given on the proposal including hours of operation, insurance, crowd control, and safety measures.

Barron repeated the race track is a developing business and more research would have to be done. He added he wants to move forward with the track construction and the events.

Brunette responded that the ordinance is a regulation the township has enacted and that the board is following procedure — contrary to Barron’s accusations of township violations, the supervisor noted.

After Mitchell Barron argued the proposal meets the ordinance, Burkhart explained that a lot of people attending the meeting oppose the project and don’t understand what’s going to happen. The board needs the additional information to make “an intelligent decision” based on law and evidence, the attorney added.

Barron said racing would be on Friday nights and Saturday nights and there would be no Sunday racing and no alcohol. His son added there would be evening practices during the week.

After asking for any additional comment, the board agreed to continue the hearing at its Feb. 13 meeting and adjourned shortly after 9 p.m. Monday.

Following the meeting, during questioning by the Daily Press, Barron said he would like to see the area become a destination for ice racing and extend racing opportunities into the summer to “generate wealth” and enhance the economics of everyone who would be affected by the development.

“We’d like to see this thing going,” he added.