CT News Junkie | OP-ED | No NIMBYs Here: Lime Rock Naysayers Are Spot On

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OP-ED | No NIMBYs Here: Lime Rock Naysayers Are Spot On

by | Oct 30, 2015 5:30am
() Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Analysis, Opinion, Salisbury

Terry Cowgill photo
Is Connecticut an anti-business state? Depends on whom you ask, but a case in my neck of the woods has lawyers, zoning geeks, business advocates — and those who simply like peace and quiet — at loggerheads over who should regulate the goings-on at one of the state’s five auto racing tracks.

At issue is the picturesque but controversial racing venue Lime Rock Park in Salisbury, and who should govern its operations. The town and its 4,000 full-time residents have had a rocky relationship with the park since it opened in 1957. It’s got to be the only race track in the country whose operations are governed largely by a court injunction.

When the quirky and unique track opened in a reclaimed gravel mine in 1957, howls of outrage were heard from nearby residents, especially those who had anything to do with Trinity Lime Rock, the Episcopal church founded in 1874 that sits directly across from the park’s infield on Route 112.

Since Lime Rock Park predates the enactment of Salisbury’s zoning regulations in the early 1970s, most of its operations are grandfathered in and not actively governed by the town. Two years after the park opened, the Lime Rock Protective Association, with support from the church, took the park to Litchfield Superior Court, which issued a still-in-place injunction that includes a prohibition on Sunday racing.

And for reasons that are too complicated to explain here, there is no un-mufflered racing on Fridays, putting the track at another competitive disadvantage and strangling its revenues. Even though state statute allows other tracks to race on Sunday afternoons, the town argues that the law is superseded by the injunction.

Lime Rock Park was not satisfied with the 1959 injunction and appealed the decision. Since there were no appellate courts in the state at that time, the case went straight to the Connecticut Supreme Court, which upheld the Litchfield decision. Since that time, the town has evolved from its working-class origins to become a premier destination for wealthy New Yorkers looking for bucolic relief. Consequently, objections to the noise and congestion of the park have become proportionately more intense.

The park tried to get the injunction altered in 2005 to allow for limited Sunday racing but nothing ever came of it. Town officials said at the time that they had learned of the attempt in the news media and that they effectively had no jurisdiction over the matter.

Now Lime Rock has filed a motion again to expand racing and practice hours, which has prompted the town Planning and Zoning Commission to respond in a most unusual way. The commission wants to actually incorporate the injunction into the town’s zoning code. If the commission is successful in doing so, in addition to convincing a judge and the town to consider revising the injunction to expand, the track would have to get the town to alter its zoning code as well, which will present an additional hurdle for track owner Skip Barber to clear.

As you can imagine, track officials are apoplectic at what they say is an attempt to further regulate the park’s activities, and they insist that incorporating the injunction into the zoning code is prima facie illegal, while the park’s antagonists say codifying the injunction is “a necessary measure to regulate a major land use.” And I think the residents have a point.

One meme circulating on social media and promulgated by a loudmouthed Texas blogger is that those who want to restrict the park’s operations are little more than “NIMBY neighbors.” It’s a ridiculous assertion, but if you repeat it loudly and often enough, someone is bound to believe it.

Those who purchased their homes in 1959 or later — and as far as I can tell, that’s everyone in the Lime Rock section of Salisbury — did so with the reasonable expectation that their Sundays would at least be peaceful and the number of un-muffled practice days would be strictly limited. And Barber knew that when he bought the park with a group of investors in 1983. Now Lime Rock Park wants to change that.

Furthermore, Lime Rock residents have lived with an auto racing venue in their “back yards” for almost 60 years, so the notion that they’re NIMBY neighbors is easily disproved. No, this is about Lime Rock Park trying to alter the terms of an injunction that both the track and the Lime Rock Protective Association ultimately agreed to not long after the track opened. It’s about neighbors who bought their homes in good faith trying to protect property values that would surely decline in inverse proportion to the park’s expansion.

Both parties are meeting in a conference at Litchfield Superior Court today. This is a gray area of the law, and, even though my house sits five miles away and is relatively protected from the noise, I think you know who I’m rooting for. Go NIMBYs!

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(7) Archived Comments

posted by: bob8/57 | October 30, 2015  9:27am

bob8/57

Go Lime Rock!

Lime Rock history

posted by: ACR | October 30, 2015  11:37am

ACR

Lime Rock is a unique race track, attracting an overwhelmingly upper-crust clientele. (Without trying to sound snobby but simply put - the crowd isn’t the NASCAR bunch.)

Countless businesses would give their eye-teeth to attract such a well heeled crowd.
Lakeville, not so much.
It boggles the mind.

Never-the-less, I wonder what the area might need that extended hours, (8 Sundays a year?) might accommodate.
(IE: Lime Rock has lot better parking than Tanglewood. Just sayin’))

Connecticut doesn’t enjoy the enabling legislation that would allow Impact Fee zoning; but that alone doesn’t make some agreeable arrangement impossible.

It should be noted that further restrictions on the track, given it’s Pre-existing non-conforming status, are unlikely in the extreme.

Thus, it strikes me the good people of the area might do well to work with their neighbor towards a mutually beneficial decision that would promote the prosperity of both the area as well as the track.

posted by: Terry Cowgill | October 30, 2015  1:44pm

Terry Cowgill

@ACR

We find ourselves in agreement on several points. LRP is certainly far more upscale than your average NASCAR track and infinitely more so than its poor cousin up the road in NY, Lebanon Valley Speedway, which features dirt tracks, drag racing and go-carts.

To be clear, I am not arguing that the Lime Rock Citizens Council should give no ground, but they would be justified in standing their ground if they chose to do so.

Like you, I actually hope the parties can come to some sort of agreement that allows the track to shore up its business model by expanding operations while not putting a much greater burden on those who live near the track.

I think one of the reasons the town of Salisbury is so ambivalent about the track is that its economic impact is unclear. Surely, there are bed & breakfast establishments, hotels and restaurants that see an uptick in business, but the track itself is not a source of a lot of jobs. I haven’t seen any reliable studies, but I would be surprised if the track was a major driver of the local economy.

posted by: ACR | October 30, 2015  3:38pm

ACR

Terry -
>>“I would be surprised if the track was a major driver of the local economy.

I recognize that, and think after a half century that’s a shame.
Assigning blame would be easy.
Everyone is guilty.
The community at large has failed to lobby the track.
Worse is the track’s lack of effort in making itself indispensable to the local citizenry.

Think Apple Fritters.
Do you have any idea how many tons of fritters sell annually at the Southington Apple Festival?
Virtually every civic, charitable, fraternal, and religious group in town has, after over 40 years, found themselves dependent on the Festival.

Allow limited Sunday racing for say, 5 years as a trial. 
Encourage every scout troop, church, fraternal group, etc. to set up (there’s oodles of land at Lime Rock) booths (tents?) to sell whatever (hot cocoa, apple pie) fundraising for their respective organizations.

It seems a shame to have a site with the ability to attract such a tony crowd without granting the civic community at large any access to those consumers when in fact LRP could and should be the primary economic engine for that group.

posted by: Clean Agent | October 31, 2015  6:39am

If you buy a house next to an airport, don’t complain that airplanes are noisy and try and shut it down. HOWEVER, if you buy a racetrack with an active court injunction against it which will not let you race on Sunday or race without mufflers on Friday, don’t complain you can’t make money.
Personally, I would be more annoyed by the rude New Yorkers and their vacation homes than by Sunday racing.
Maybe Skip Barber should submit a plan to tear the track down and build 2000 units of low income housing. My suggestion for a name would be “Racetrack Heights.” I bet Salisbury has a real shortage of affordable housing. They will be racing at night on Sundays after that plan is submitted.

posted by: bobhein | October 31, 2015  9:52am

This reminds me a bit of the complaints in Colchester/East Haddam about the old Connecticut Dragway which did a booming business on weekends, Sunday included. The major complaint concerned noise. The complaints increased as more upscale developments were built in the area. And of course a dragway was more like a Nascar track than a road course (LRP) in the clientele it attracted. The horror, the great unwashed has invaded and disrupted our rural Nirvana-like retreat and sullied our genteel sensibilities in the process.
Let’s get real. All zoning or development/land use restrictions are a form of legalized NIMBY. No body wants the town dump in their neighborhood, but it has to go somewhere. And everything offends somebody somehow.
And as a final note, Connecticut Dragway was sold to Consumer reports and became their car testing site for the magazine.

posted by: crankyolddad | November 24, 2015  1:53pm

I’m a relative newcomer to the Lime Rock attendee crowd, about 12 years thus far. I’m over 60 and have never been a NASCAR fan. When I first thought about attending the race on a Memorial Day Weekend I searched for accommodations and could only find the little cabins up the road. Whatever may have been available (I started looking in November of the previous year) was priced well above what I wanted to spend. Over the years I learned that the closest and most reasonably priced areas were a healthy drive north, to Lenox or Great Barrington, both about an hours drive each way.  The area around Lime Rock never seemed to want anyone not in the upper crust. There are no chain hotels close by and no B&B’s that seem to want outsiders either. (I tried)

I cannot comment on the noise situation since my only experience is at the track, but driving in I can’t say that there is any excessive noise that escapes the bowl that is the track. I’ll admit that a race weekend might be an issue for those on White Hollow Road, if only for the traffic, and occasional boy racer who thinks he’s on a track instead of a public road.

I suspect that the legal beagles in Salisbury and the surrounding area will be triumphant and Skip Barber and all the racers and fans will have to suffer the indignation that the Bridgehampton attendees did so many years ago. Common denominator here? Same socio-economic crowd, possibly their relatives as well. Funny how even having cars from Ralph Lauren’s collection isn’t enough to soften the hard hearts of the locals. We’ve been lumped into the “other” group and are being treated as equals. Sadly, I also believe a goodly number of the Lime Rock regulars are cut from the same cloth as the residents of Salisbury, although they don’t seem to be making any argument FOR having the track and opening on an occasional Sunday.