Mountain Ear: Tamworth Upstaged by New State Law By Dean Luttrell, Contributing Writer
Thursday, May 13, 2004
SB458 exempts racetrack from local ordinances
TAMWORTH — This past week, a new development came to light concerning the private racetrack facility Club Motorsports, Inc. (CMI) is looking to build on land off Route 25 in Tamworth.
In February, both the New Hampshire House and Senate passed by voice vote a bill (SB458) that “defines private driving instruction and exhibition facilities and exempts such facilities from local regulation of motor vehicle tracks.” Governor Craig Benson signed the bill on March 5, and it took effect 60 days later (May 4). Five days subsequent to the signing, at Tamworth’s March 10 town meeting, voters overwhelmingly approved (by 223 to 43) a local racetrack ordinance meant to regulate the CMI facility, not knowing that the statutes which served as the model for the ordinance had in fact been altered by SB458’s passage.
Opponents see SB458 as a means of subverting local control over the CMI racetrack and others like it. Representative Harry Merrow of Ossipee is on record as saying he plans to file a bill this fall to get SB458 repealed. Likewise, the New Hampshire Municipal Association has criticized the bill as representing a loss of local control.
District One Sen. John Gallus of Berlin was one of SB458’s sponsors. He rejects the notion that the legislation was meant to take local control out of the picture.
“What that legislation does is, the facility still has to — whether it’s in Tamworth or Pittsburg or Berlin — the facility would still have to be controlled by local zoning ordinances and other local ordinances,” Gallus explained. “What it does do with the definition of motor sports tracks — it differentiates between public and private facilities. The track Club Motorsports is planning for Tamworth — and there have been talks of something else in other areas of the state — would actually be private facilities, not a spectator facility such as [New Hampshire International Speedway in] Loudon.”
[Last September, Tamworth voters rejected a proposed temporary emergency zoning ordinance proposed by opponents of the CMI facility. Tamworth has in fact never had a municipal zoning ordinance.]
Gallus added, “The original legislation that is being changed [by SB458] was legislation that was basically put in with the development of the Loudon racetrack, which is of course not a private facility but a public facility — and there is a difference there.”
As to whether the bill was specifically tailored for CMI’s Tamworth facility, Gallus responded, “Well, in reality there has been some talk of other private facilities — private piece of land, private track facility — some conversations with people in different areas of the state, not necessarily Tamworth.”
Some critics of SB458 have contended that it was rushed through the legislative process specifically to avoid detection Gallus maintains that this is not so.
“Basically, it moved through like all pieces of legislation,” he said. “The bill had a public hearing in the Senate, a public hearing in the House, so it’s been there since the legislative session began.” He points out “there are some 2000 pieces of legislation put out in the course of the session, and so some of this stuff does get lost. But this is not a bill that was put in at the last minute, as an amendment on something. This was a bill that went through the legislative process, and did have open hearings.”
Asked how he would reassure Tamworth voters fearful that the matter of local control of CMI’s private racetrack has become moot with the passage of SB458, Gallus responded, “These are passionate issues on both sides from time to time, but I don’t think it necessarily impacts any local control. [CMI is] going through the [New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services] process. There’s a lot of other processes that are involved here. It’s not just rubber-stamped because we passed this particular bill.”