“Just Level With Us”

Tamworth — January 4, 2007 — Club Motorsports Inc. kicked up another round of quarreling and head scratching in town last week when the developer handed over a new set of plans for apparently little more than a road up a hill.

But the racetrack builder declined to discuss what development would follow, prompting one outraged Tamworth official to demand: “Just level with us.”

The application made no mention of the infamous mountainside driving complex, rejected earlier this winter by the planning board, and now the subject of a bitter lawsuit between the company and the town. Instead, the latest bid to at least pass next to wetlands sparked a new round of debate on the divided planning board.

The company’s new plans, filed last month on the same day it sued over the rejection of CMI’s old full-scale road course version, asks for permission to build access roads on its large tract of land on the north banks of Mount Whittier. But CMI also says it will explore “development options” on its 251 acres, prompting some outspoken board members to demand an explanation for what was called a “loose” declaration.

A trio of planners, including Tom Cleveland and Herb Cooper, who had recused themselves under pressure in the past from deliberations because of reputed public anti-racetrack sentiments, again resisted calls from CMI that they continue to step aside. In fact, they did not refrain from voting against CMI in a preliminary polling Wednesday. Despite their opposition, the board granted CMI no more than an official town review of the new blueprints.

CMI lawyer Thomas Quarrels said the planners should have stepped down for the “sake of consistency.” But town attorney Rick Sager contended that while past statements had been anti-racetrack, they had not been particularly anti-CMI. Now, with the elephantine track issue left off the paperwork, the developer, like any other, could claim no misstep by planners, he said.

The distinction was frowned on by Quarrels, who had argued in the lawsuit that even their replacements in the past may have been biased against CMI.

“I’m not aware of any prejudice that these three board members have against CMI,” Sager said.

The trio’s effort to scuttle even a review of the company’s new racetrack-free application fell short when chairman David Goodson tipped a deadlocked board. With Goodson casting a tie-breaking vote, the 4-3 decision to open a review turned a new page in the track’s rough-and-tumble history.

“It’s not an issue for tonight,” said Goodson of calls for recusal, which began stirring emotions years ago. The only decision to be made, he insisted, was whether the application was complete.

It was unclear if the process is bound for the same chain of events as the last review, when area towns were invited for a special regional public hearing that packed a gymnasium. Before Wednesday’s vote, Cooper and Cleveland, who faulted the application as incomplete in their explanation of why it should be turned back, took turns challenging the developer to reveal more of its designs.

“I find it hard to believe that they have no idea what they are going to do,” Cooper said.

“Why can’t you level with the town?” he implored company officials. “With so much at stake here, I find it hard to believe that they don’t know the next step.”

“We recused ourselves because it had to do with a raceway — racetrack — there is nothing here to do with a racetrack,” Cleveland said, correcting himself, adding later, “We don’t know the use.”

The company has invested reportedly huge sums in engineering and lawyers, vowing to accomplish its vision of a world-renowned European-style road course, despite fierce resistance in a sharply divided community. While officials last week did not speculate whether CMI had shifted gears, one racing enthusiast Web site had posed the question as far back as 2004, pondering when, or even if, the course would make it. Later on Wednesday night, officials lamented the cost of mounting a legal struggle, leaving Goodson shaking his head.

“I don’t like to say it, believe me, but I think we should budget $20,000,” he said.

The company’s decision to sue for a critical permission has thrust taxpayers into the lawyer-driven fray that up until now has been mostly fought between CMI and local activist group, Focus: Tamworth. The planning board’s refusal of a key wetlands permit spurred the litigation.

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