Hearings Scheduled on Repeal of Law Excluding CMI from Ordinance

Tamworth — February 3, 2005 — Two public hearings are expected to be jammed on a House bill that would repeal the now infamous SB 458, the state law that allowed developers of a proposed driving track to skirt a local ordinance which would have restricted its operation.Behind SB 458, the most locally talked-about senate bill in years (now RSA 287-G), Club Motorsports Inc. darted from the sights of Tamworth’s Race Track Ordinance, just days before the town law would begin to regulate the company’s 251-acre motorsports park development on the side of Mount Whittier. The bill defined “private driving instruction and exhibition facilities,” and in doing do exempted those facilities, including CMI’s, from the Tamworth law targeting “racetracks.”

A House committee will hear public input on HB 90, sponsored by local representatives to repeal the legislation, on Thursday, Feb. 17, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the K. A. Brett School in Tamworth, House Municipal and County Government Committee chair and Moultonborough Rep. Betsey Patten announced Monday. The hearing will carry over to a House session in Concord the following Tuesday.

The Senate bill eluded Concord lobbyists and local legislators on its way to unanimous passage last March. Citizens quickly became enraged at the resulting loss of local control in Tamworth, and shot angry stares and volleys of letters at legislators who apparently blinked as the bill smoothly became law.

Sen. Joe Kenney, who chaired the state senate committee that debated the bill, said the proposed legislation first seemed “innocuous,” after uproar broke out in Tamworth last spring. It seemed an effective way to clean up state definitions and allow a new type of business into the state economy, he and the bill’s prime sponsor Sen. John Gallus of Berlin said. Gallus also said Tamworth could have adopted zoning ordinances, which would have allowed the town to regulate all development.

Emergency temporary zoning was turned down by Tamworth voters, only to have some of its language recycled to construct the town’s racetrack ordinance which passed town meeting in March with 84 percent voter support. The local racetrack ordinance, SB 458 opponents charge, has been drained of any potency by the passage of the bill.

As a result, Kenney weathered a strong but insufficient challenge to his senate seat by Tamworth Democrat William Farnum, who charged into campaign debates alleging Kenney should have known about the bill’s impact, or worse did know, and did nothing. Gallus easily won his re-election bid.

HB 90 prime sponsor Ossipee Rep. Harry Merrow, after learning with alarm that the law stole town control, promised in February to file a bill “to flat out repeal,” and did so on September 20 with HB 90, just as the House filing period opened. The bill would return “private driving instruction and exhibition facilities,” under the state umbrella definition, “racetrack,” and repeal the law separating CMI’s planned facility from big spectator raceways. “This bill repeals RSA 287-G, relative to private driving instruction and exhibition facilities,” according to the state’s website.

“This repeal will pass the House but will be a battle in the Senate,” Ossipee Rep. Dave Babson, cosponsor of the House bill to repeal the law, predicted after the September filing.

“The senate has once already illustrated unwillingness to revisit the bill based upon its ease of passage,” Kenney confirmed the prediction in an email this fall. “I did attempt to offer an amendment at the late hour in a committee of conference in June to address the oversight issue on such a facility but it was promptly shot down by legislative conferee members who stated ‘it passed unanimously and what are we trying to do here. Let’s leave it alone.

“I can’t win them all but I am willing to work with the public to come up with a better solution. Repeal of SB 458 in its full form will be difficult in the coming year, but the legislation needs to be filed to have the debate so we can strengthen the issue and come out with a better outcome,” Kenney said in September. “In retrospect, five months after it became a major topic in Tamworth, I now do believe that aspect of local control has to be revisited out of respect to Tamworth which has no local zoning.”

“The bill is a good thing coming back,” Gallus said. “This will give it another chance to be heard. People who feel they didn’t get a fair shake will get one this time around.” Both senators reported correspondence from constituents unhappy with the legislation.

However, since SB 458 moved so frictionlessly through the Senate and the House, garnering nary a single no vote in both houses, senators will need to feel a heavy push from locals before considering a repeal, Gallus said.

“This was the easiest bill I’ve ever seen go through,” he said. “They better bring the local boys on board,” he said. “If they are coming back with new legislation, they better coming back with total local support.”

“We will listen to anyone and everybody gets to comment,” but Gallus said, “It’s going to be to some degree, who do you bring from the local community… selectmen and local people? The Senate has a tendency to listen to that type of voice.”

Merrow said he expects a good show of citizens and local politicians at both House hearings. “I’ve gotten a lot of letters from selectmen around the state,” he said Monday. “I expect 50 to 100 people to show up in Concord. Over 250 turned out for the last CMI-related public session in Tamworth — an October Army Corps of Engineers permit hearing, where most citizens came out vehemently against the track citing environmental concerns, and a handful testified that the driving club and its estimated 50 new jobs would be warmly welcomed by a “silent majority” in Tamworth.

Merrow, who will introduce background behind his bill to open the hearings, said his brief history should be the only mention of the CMI project. “This is not about the track,” he said. “It’s about local control.”

The hearing will be recessed and continued at the Legislative Office Building in Concord the following Tuesday morning, February 22 at 10 a.m. according to a House Municipal and County Government Committee press release.

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Reprinted by courtesy of the Conway Daily Sun

Warrant Article Could Muffle Motorsports Park

By Nate Giarnese

Tamworth – February 2, 2005 – In the battle over sound levels between developers of a proposed driving track for private sports cars and residents opposed to it, the latest noise is coming from 250 signers of a petition who have submitted a special article to be considered at town meeting to muffle exhaust noise.

The special article will ask voters to enact a new noise ordinance limiting decibels to 69 at all “private driving instruction and exhibition facilities” in Tamworth. If enacted, the warrant article would turn the tables on a controversial, year-old state law that freed Valley Motorsports Park last March from a town racetrack ordinance, assembled to specifically target and control the proposed 250-acre facility. But first, the noise ordinance will be up for debate at the March 9 deliberative session of town meeting.

Club Motorsports Inc. which wants to carve a three-mile European-style road course and hotel into the north face of Mount Whittier, called the move another in a string of activist swipes at development — one that may perch other area business atop a slippery slope.

“If I owned another business in town, I’d be nervous about this,” CMI spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said Thursday. “If they can pass a restrictive sound ordinance on our business, who’s next? Can they restrict sound at the log yard? Can they restrict sound at the crusher?” he asked. “Why should they be allowed to single out our business?”

Under the proposed decibel limit, neither car nor lawnmower would be allowed to run on the property, according to a sound study commissioned by the company in 2004, Tranchemontagne said. The study refutes an earlier Tamworth Foundation study that Tranchemontagne said probably first posed the 69 decibel figure.

“The 69 decibel level is ridiculous on its face. They know at 69 decibels we would not be able to operate,” he said. “At 69 decibels at our property line, we can’t even mow our lawn,” he said. “Our sound study showed that we would not have a negative impact on the community.”

According to press release from Focus: Tamworth, a local citizen’s group lobbying to impose town regulation of the project, “A professional sound study in the summer of 2003 showed that noise from CMI’s proposed facility would impact nearby homes and businesses as well as the K.A. Brett School, St. Andrew’s in the Valley Episcopal Church, and White Lake State Park. Noise pollution, the study pointed out, affects physical and psychological health. The Tamworth School Board has asked the selectmen to consider the education, health and welfare of students in any future noise ordinance decision.”

Pursuant to a CMI permit application and public hearing, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers has hired an independent expert to look at both sound studies, Tranchemontagne said.

“At this point Tamworth has no enforceable control over the operation of the proposed Club Motorsports Inc. development, or over the activities of other groups that might rent the track,” Focus spokesperson Charles Greenhalgh said. “Without the (racetrack ordinance), Tamworth has no statutory local control of the racetrack’s operations.”

His group is not out to “kill the project,” as charged by CMI, Greenhalgh said, Focus wants only to restore local control. “We think it’s important for Tamworth to regain the only element of statutory local control available after RSA 287-G. To truly protect the town, we need an ordinance that can be enforced,” Greenhalgh said in June, when the noise ordinance was first discussed. “We think this is the right way to accomplish that, and we are convinced it will stand up to a court challenge.”

“The ordinance will restore one of the 22 elements of the town’s racetrack ordinance, which was adopted by the selectmen in October, 2003, and affirmed by an 84 percent majority at town meeting last year. The RTO was apparently invalidated by the quiet passage of SB 458 (now RSA 287-G) in early 2004,” according to the Thursday release.

Senate Bill 458, now RSA 287-G, took effect days before town meeting 2004, where voters passed a town ordinance that would regulate “racetracks” in Tamworth. SB 458, billed by sponsors as opening a new type of business to the state’s economy, redefined the term “racetrack,” and separated small private club tracks, from larger, louder, Louden-type spectator facilities. Under the new state law, the non-spectator Tamworth project was exempted from the town ordinance five days before it passed, sending residents into fits and legislators scrambling to apologize for not flagging the seemingly “innocuous” bill in Concord.

Hearings Scheduled on Repeal of Law Excluding CMI from Ordinance