Most race weekends end on Sunday, making events at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park somewhat of an anomaly. Currently, they are prohibited from racing on Sundays at all. However, upon petitioning to amend this, the local community fired back by demanding that they take over the regulation of Lime Rock’s activities.
While the famed track is privately owned by Skip Barber and governed by an injunction set over half a century ago, the Salisbury Planning and Zoning Commission has proposed keeping the hilariously strict current time and usage restrictions on Lime Rock Park and regulating other aspects of the track’s use.
Lime Rock Park, on the other hand, believes that this would be unlawful on the part of the Planning and Zoning Commission and is trying to rally support for the track.
But allowing the community to regulate Lime Rock even further would be egregiously bad for the track and local motorsport. Here’s why.
Currently, Lime Rock falls under the jurisdiction of the Litchfield Superior Court through an injunction made in 1959 when aggrieved homeowners organized as the Lime Rock Protective Association and took the facility to court. On rare occasion, Lime Rock has asked for modifications to this injunction to keep up with modern needs.
The last time they modified this agreement was in 1988. The agreed upon rules from then still limit the facility’s hours of use, prohibit motorcycle racing, and prohibit racing on Sundays, however, they also allow a certain number of unmufflered days at the facility.
In order for motorsports to grow, many events now utilize both Saturday and Sunday to allow fans and participants to get the most out of a weekend. Professional events now often start on Thursdays, with practice sessions, support series, and qualifying leading up to a Sunday feature race.
Lime Rock realizes this and filed a motion on September 4 asking the Litchfield Superior Court to modify the injunction to trade five unmufflered Tuesdays on the calendar for Thursdays. Additionally, they have made the painfully reasonable request for two unmufflered Sundays of the year, with one Sunday reserved for a professional event and one reserved only as a rain-out date. They have asked to extend their hours of operation on Friday morning and Saturday afternoon to accommodate such events. They have also asked for twenty Sunday mufflered days of operation “to allow the track to stay economically competitive,” per the motion’s argument.
Lime Rock’s current arrangement also effectively prevents them from hosting support series on race weekends. While there is a sanctioning fee that the track has to pay to host a major race event, support series that want the visibility alongside the main event often pay the track to appear there. Because Tuesday, not Thursday, is Lime Rock’s designated unmuffled test day, no racing is allowed at all on Friday. The track isn’t even allowed to go hot then until 10:00 a.m., so there simply isn’t time to bring in enough support series to drive a significant amount of revenue for the track.
You can see the problems at work here.
So as a concession, the facility is asking to reduce their number of unmufflered weekday test days from 52 to 20. Lime Rock Park also already has a self-imposed sound limit in the interest of being a good neighbor that track spokesman Rick Roso told us has netted them zero noise complaints in the past five years.
It’s a small step into the 21st century, but the track is on to something. Most people only get two days off per week: Saturday and Sunday. Those are the days when people are usually available to do things like watch a race or drive in a track event. It’s unfair that Lime Rock is the only track in the entire country that is prohibited from racing on a Sunday.
While many are quick to blame Trinity Episcopal Church’s presence right next to Lime Rock as the reason why no one can race on Sundays, Connecticut law prohibits racing before noon on Sundays, anyway. While I don’t agree that Connecticut’s law makes sense for every facility, not racing before noon makes sense in Lime Rock’s case given their proximity to said church, and the track is not looking to change this.
Trinity Episcopal Church admits that there has been strain in their relationship with the track in the past, however, their website points out they have “coexisted amicably over the past four decades.” Church rector Rev. Heidi Truax delivers the invocation before racing events, and the congregation has welcomed visitors to the park for services throughout the years. Likewise, Roso confirmed that the track voluntarily goes quiet for many Trinity functions outside of Sundays, such as weddings.
The biggest opposition today are the people who want all of their Sundays to remain quiet—and control of the noise the rest of the time. Never mind that Lime Rock is only talking about 22 Sundays a year, most of which are kept to the sound limits of Connecticut public roads. Never mind, either, that Lime Rock is in a location where seasonal weather forces it to shut down operations on the main track for part of the year.
No, people who willingly live next to a race track expect said race track to abide by harsh restrictions on use set in the 1950s. It’s unreasonable.
Even more unreasonable is the Salisbury Planning and Zoning Commission’s proposal to take control of regulating the track’s operations. (While Lime Rock Park is located in Lakeville, all of Lakeville falls under Salisbury’s municipal jurisdiction.) According to TriCorner News, the PZC proposal was put forth in a hearing on September 8. The reason why the community was up in arms about Lime Rock all of a sudden was so obvious that Planning and Zoning Chairman Michael Klemens had to start off the meeting by saying, “This is not about Sunday racing.”
In addition to wanting to lock in Lime Rock Park’s existing usage restrictions as they stand, Klemens announced a whole list of things the city zoning board would like to regulate at the meeting, as quoted by TriCorner News:
The proposed changes include adding accessory uses (camping, overnight parking in the track outfield, and the hours the track entrance and the “back road” may be open); and signs that are not “consistently visible from off the premises.
However, the Planning and Zoning Commission’s proposed changes, as pointed out in a letter sent from lawyer James K. Robertson on behalf of Lime Rock Park on October 13, are believed to be unlawful. For one, Robertson points out that the Connecticut State Legislature has already clearly defined the limits of when race tracks can be in operation.
“[T]he Connecticut Supreme Court has held that zoning commissions lack authority to regulate business hours when the State Legislature regulates the field itself or has delegated such authority to another entity,” writes Robertson.
Furthermore, the letter argues that the Planning and Zoning Commission lacks the authority to place the limits they propose on the hours and types of racing held at Lime Rock Park.
“If the PZC enacts the proposed regulations, it will be attempting to exercise a power that has been specifically preempted by state statute,” writes Robertson.
Robertson’s full letter, which calls the Salsibury Planning and Zoning Commission’s proposed action “a brazenly illegal effort to regulate noise,” also points out that Connecticut has a history of invalidating “blue laws” which prohibit legitimate business activity on Sundays as well. Furthermore, as Lime Rock Park is the only business affected by the PZC’s proposed action, their regulation of Lime Rock’s activities would violate Lime Rock’s rights to equal protection under the law. Racing at the site has also been grandfathered in as a legal, nonconforming use.
One of the biggest problems highlighted in Robertson’s letter, as with any NIMBY dispute born out of fear, is that there are some wild untruths and exaggerations being spouted off by those who oppose the track’s efforts to modernize their hours of operation.
A reference to the fact that race tracks and amusement parks are treated the same under the law made during the hearing has blown completely out of proportion into the idea that Lime Rock wants to expand and add an amusement park. Anyone’s who’s been observing the Nürburgring’s situation could tell you that adding an amusement park to a race track is usually a disaster, but the rumor persists anyway.
Actress and area resident Laura Linney made a reference to “Lime Rock Race Track’s attempt to change their designation to that of ‘Amusement Park’” in her letter to the editor of the TriCorner News—a change in designation that doesn’t exist.
Roso confirmed that the only expansion they’re looking for is one of time. 384 acres is enough space. It’s the usage of that space that needs to allowed to mirror that of other race tracks around the country.
Unfortunately, these gentle misunderstandings are mild compared to the situation painted in an email from the track staff that is now circulating on Facebook:
The people in opposition to Lime Rock have issued statements, letters, faxes and advertisements that grossly mislead, misrepresent, obfuscate and exaggerate what the requested changes entail, going so far as to claim it will mean the ruination of Trinity Episcopal Church across the street and cause “irreparable harm” to Music Mountain – they’ve even accused our spectators of regularly trafficking in drugs. (To quote one of the scare tactics used in an opposition’s solicitation for support and also sent to P&Z: “... will likely prompt increased ‘trafficking’ of alcohol and drugs between the community and race crews, spectators and campers.” Irrespective of anything else, this is abhorrently insulting to our fans and competitors.)
We hope we needn’t remind you of Skip Barber’s personal virtues, having been a good citizen, good neighbor, and a major contributor to the town for more than 35 years; these malicious misstatements are both hurtful and unfair...
It’s one thing to be on the wrong side of the law and common sense. It’s another thing to be aggressively wrong to the point of insulting the side you don’t agree with.
One unfortunate example of the kind of fearmongering Lime Rock’s opponents have resorted to can be found in a letter to the editor written by Lime Rock Cemetery Improvement Association treasurer/secretary Lisa M. Keller. Keller wrote to the TriCorner News:
Lime Rock Track is also requesting an expansion of their camping activities to a field directly across the street from the cemetery. The track is requesting approval for no limitations on entering and leaving the campground night and day. As there are currently no controls for alcohol consumption in the track’s existing camping area, the expansion of the camping to the area immediately across the street from our historic cemetery, along with excessive drinking could lead to vandalism and unauthorized visitation to the cemetery in the dark. This would pose a safety risk for both the visitors and the historic stones.
In addition to the potential for vandalism to the stones and our 150-year-old stone wall, we are concerned that our exposure via the liability risk for trespassers will add undue expense to our operating costs.
Equivocating track visitors with criminals isn’t a fair portrait to paint, nor is it fair to limit the activities of the living so as not to annoy those who take care of the dead.
Furthermore, I was unable to find Lime Rock’s requests about camping that Keller is even talking about in the motion that was submitted by Lime Rock Park to the Litchfield Superior Court.
Robertson correctly points out that Lime Rock Park is “the most severely limited and restricted Park in America.” The closest example that I can think of is Laguna Seca, which struggles to remain financially viable due to overbearing restrictions on noise and major events placed upon it by people who have no respect or understanding for such a facility’s purpose.
Laguna Seca, sadly, is a NIMBY’s dream. It’s the perfect example of what happens when you let unqualified busybodies have free reign over a track’s operations. It has lost major events with little hope of attracting them back due to increasing event sanctioning fees, undesirable noise restrictions for many area grassroots organizations and an inability to hold festivals, concerts, and other related events to raise money—despite being one of the most famous and desirable facilities in the world.
Likewise, anyone who can’t understand the entirely reasonable request to run on Sundays at a modern racing facility appears to have zero understanding of the park’s functions. Sunday event days are so common that many racing and track day groups advertise their own ministry or prayer groups for the faithful to attend while at the event. Even Miller Motorsports Park, in the heart of Mormon country, is open for Sunday operations.
Lime Rock cannot allow itself to fall under the control of people who care more about their own concerns than keeping a historic facility viable and open. While they are fortunate to be privately owned by Skip Barber instead of on public land like Laguna Seca, that makes it an even larger travesty for a city commission to infringe upon Barber’s rights to do what he needs to keep the track open and viable.
As it stands, the approval of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s proposal would set a terrifying precedent. This is a battle for control, and if granted, the Salisbury Planning and Zoning Commission would be able to enact even harsher restrictions on the track in the future.
Harsher restrictions on Lime Rock’s use would be devastating to many local businesses that surround the track. “Economically, we are the engine in this part of the world,” explained Roso. Lakeville is quite rural, so it would be the small businesses in the area that cater to travelers that would suffer as a result, including hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, gas stations and other services.
Furthermore, Roso explained that the track helps generate millions of dollars for charities each year. These charities, too, would feel the hurt.
Fortunately—and we hope they’re right—the track is convinced that the Planning and Zoning Commission’s proposal is unlawful. However, for good reason, they would rather not see it pass in the first place.
An impassioned email from the track staff asks fans of the facility to make their voices heard to the Salisbury Planning and Zoning Committee:
If you send Salisbury P&Z an email, use the subject line: “Regarding Lime Rock Park.”
To send a letter to Michael Klemens, P&Z Chairman, via U.S. Post Office or Overnight:
Town Hall, Attention Michael Klemens, 27 Main Street, P.O. Box 548, Salisbury, CT 06068-0548
CC: Nancy Brusie, P&Z Administrator
To email Michael Klemens, P&Z Chairman:
Care of Nancy Brusie: firstname.lastname@example.org
Furthermore, the track asks for support in person at the public meeting regarding Lime Rock Park on Monday, October 19, from those who can make it. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. in the Salisbury Town Hall, located at 27 Main Street in Salisbury, Conn.
Roso insists that the track is not trying to be adversarial in defending its need to modify the injunction to fit the modern uses of a racing facility. Rather, he insists that there must be a compromise.
“There’s plenty of room for everyone to sit down and figure out what works,” he said.
Lime Rock’s requests are all too sensible not to find a way to make work. It’s simply unfair to expect Lime Rock to abide by vastly different rules than every other race track in the country.
[H/T Mike Juergens]
Photo credits: Self (top), Getty Images (others)
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