Friday, Jan. 16

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Racetrack on track, wins city planning commission approval     Send a link to a friend

[JAN. 16, 2004]  Slight apprehension filled the room as the City Hall chambers filled to a packed house for a public hearing of the Lincoln Planning Commission.

The commission had two issues to discuss: the development of a racetrack and the development of a new subdivision. Each issue had two items, the second item dependent on approval of the first, in each case.

The greatest question of the evening was whether neighbors to the Logan County Fairgrounds or others might oppose the development of a race car track at that site. All neighbors within 150 feet of the fairgrounds had been notified of the hearing.

It was the racetrack issue that packed the room, and the commission began their work there.

The first area of business was to consider a request from the Lincoln City Council to amend the C-1 and C-2 District with a "special use" that includes automobile racing. The Logan County Fairgrounds is C-2.

According to Bill Bates, the city attorney, special use is something that is allowed in a certain category, but only after a public hearing before the planning commission, and then their recommendation goes back the city council. Each special use is considered separately. So approval of this amendment would not automatically make it possible to start a racetrack on any C-1 or C-2 property without going through several channels for approval.

In a 5-1 vote the commission approved the special use car racetrack amendment to C-1 and C-2 districts. Don Miller was the only "no" vote. He gave no reason for his opposition.

***

With item one of issue one out of the way, Gary Baugh and Norm Horn of B&H Racing Enterprise were invited to present their business plan to bring car racing to the Logan County Fairgrounds. Baugh brings over 40 years racetrack experience, including design and operation of a racetrack in Bloomington.

"Our number one goal in doing this is to have a family atmosphere," Baugh said. The B&H mission statement reads as follows: "Provide a racing program that is efficient in time, fair and consistent to the race drivers, entertaining to the race fans and affordable entertainment to the community."

In conjunction with this attitude, Baugh said, "We have a responsibility to the community, the race fans and the drivers, and ourselves to put on a complete, well-run, fair, consistent, entertaining racing program."

Baugh then went down a list of criteria they have set:

--Admission and concession costs will be kept affordable for families

--No alcohol will be sold or served. We believe that "alcohol and racing don't mix," he said.

--A quarter-mile track will be constructed inside the half-mile horse-racing track.

--A foot and a half (about 200 truckloads) of heavy clay will be laid to minimize dust.

--Additional lighting and safety walls will all be movable to permit other continued uses of the infield, such as when balloons set up there for the balloon fest.

--Spectators will also be protected by a catch fence.

--Parking will be permitted inside the fairgrounds (at no additional fee) through the south gate only. This will minimize traffic congestion around the fairgrounds.

--Three self-contained concession stands are planned to serve the crowds.

--It is estimated that the average attendance will be 1,500.

--Events will probably be on Sundays in May through September with the exclusion of the balloon fest and Railsplitter weekends

--Proposed hours will be 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.

The design takes into consideration the protection of the horse racetrack, Baugh said. "We know that the horse-racing program in the Lincoln area has always been a big event. We want to minimize any impact that our program would have on that," he said.

 

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The business has agreed to provide the fairgrounds board with a sizable sum of money up-front that will return the infield of the fairgrounds to its original condition.

The city will benefit from additional revenue of 2,000 people in town for the races. This will mean increased revenues, particularly for food and fuel businesses.

Baugh said that 95 percent of racetracks in the Midwest are within the city limits. Other communities have dealt with the same issues and have thrived right around the racetracks.

The business owners have considered other locations but say the Lincoln is the best choice. But everything considered, with a successful racetrack here years ago and lots of racing enthusiasts in the area, this is a "natural fit," Baugh said.

Only six people signed up to speak. Five of them -- Vernon Charron, Jack Barry, Irv Guyett of Collision Concepts, Fox Sanders and Greg Brinner
-- have strong racing backgrounds, and they spoke strongly in favor. They said that racing is a good family sport.

Brinner, also a local realtor, said that property values do not decline when a track goes in. Neighbors typically acclimate to the sound just like those near a highway or airport.

Barry felt that it is uncommon not to have beer sold for this type of event and thought that it would be better to have one of the local clubs set up their tent or truck.

The one exclusion to full support came from a representative of the horse owners who stable and train their horses at the grounds. Rodney McCray said he was neither for nor against the car racetrack, but he says he would like to be able to sit down and discuss what needs to happen to maintain the track that is already on the fairgrounds.

McCray said he would like to preserve another family-oriented activity that already exists there: horse training and racing. He stables some of his horses at the grounds and trains them on the track at least 300 days of the year. He has concerns about maintaining the quality of the horse track.

McCray said there has been damage to the horse track following the demolition derby at the county fair. The horse owners have had to handle that cleanup.

He also noted that at other county fairgrounds the car races appear to have run the horsemen off. He believes this has happened through lack of communication and would like to begin by sitting down together to talk and keep those lines open.

He is concerned for the maintenance of the soft limestone track. He is not sure how the barriers may affect the track.

Baugh acknowledged that cars will cross the track and it will need fixing weekly. He says that they are more than ready to do the half-hour of work it will take to reset the track each week. And, he agrees that it is important to work together.

With no written or verbalized opposition received before the meeting and no apparent unresolvable issues, the commission voted 5-1 (Miller, again, was the only "no" vote) to approve the special use for car racing at the Logan County Fairgrounds for B&H Enterprises.

The commission will recommend both the amendment of special use for racing in a C-1 and C-2, as well as approval of the new special use of this amendment for B&H Enterprises at the Logan County Fairgrounds, for approval to the city council.

The council has both items of this issue on their agenda to vote on at next Tuesday's meeting, which begins at 7:15 p.m.

A brief announcement was made that the commission had more business on another matter. It was suggested that those who were there for the racetrack issue only could leave if they wished to.

The room abruptly erupted in chuckles and emptied quickly. The air thinned. But the satisfied murmurings continued to permeate the chamber doors from those who gathered outside to glow in the vision of a near-future passion.

[Jan Youngquist]

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