Motocross park suffers narrow council defeat

Next stop: full zoning board hearing on May 2

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TIVERTON — A proposed amendment to the Tiverton zoning ordinance, that would have allowed the installation of a motocross park at 691 Brayton Road, failed to get a majority of votes from the Tiverton Town Council on April 9, so it was in effect defeated.

After their recent failure to gain approval of a zoning amendment from the town council on April 9, supporters of the track go next on May 2 to the Zoning Board of Review, which is hearing an appeal from a Notice of Violation issued last Aug. 16 by the town’s building and zoning official, Neil Hall, and former Tiverton Police Chief Thomas Blakey. 

The violation was occasioned by the use of the property by Mr. Johnson in allowing dirt bikes and quad riders to ride their vehicles on the property.

The motocross park had been proposed by Raymond Johnson and Camaco Holdings, who for several years have been informally allowing dirt bike and quad riders to use the property, sometimes for a fee. As an MX691 entry on the riderplanet-usa.com website for Rhode Island noted last Sept. 11, 2017, it cost “$25 per rider, $10/small track.”

The vote April 9 was 3-3-1, with Councilors Randy Lebeau (who made the motion to approve the amendment), Joan Chabot (who seconded the motion), and John Edwards all voting in favor of the proposal, and Councilors Patricia Hilton, Denise DeMedeiros and Christine Ryan voting against.
"This is a no-win situation, no matter which way you go,” Councilor Joe Perry, the seventh council member, said before the vote. “I’m looking at the what the zoning is [it’s R-80], what the planning board recommends [it voted unanimously against the proposal], and what the solicitor recommends, and that’s what I’m looking at. Unless somebody can come up on a way where we can do it, or think of some other way, it’s a no-brainer,” Mr. Perry said. He then abstained on the vote.

The council debate
In the debate, Councilor Lebeau contended that by “not allowing Mr. Johnson to have his business on the property,” the town would “have no control over what happens on the property.”
“Mr. Johnson has a lot of friends,” Mr. Lebeau said, “and if he has 60 friends over Saturday and Sunday and they want to ride for 12 hours, and they’re not breaking the [sound] ordinance, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“We’ve gotten many emails and calls about not having this happen,” Councilor Ryan said. “We’ve been consistent in the ‘comp plan’ and what people have been saying: We want a small town atmosphere.... If you look at the plans for this, none of that looks like a small town atmosphere ... I don’t see how you can approve this.”
“I don’t see that a motocross track — and that’s what Mr. Johnson is asking for — is a good fit in a residential zone,” said Councilor Hilton. “If you look at rural south Tiverton’s R-80 zone, most of the people who move there or are interested in buying there, want to go there because they’re choosing a quiet, more peaceful place to live.”
“If you have something that’s aggressively loud and disruptive in a neighborhood like that, you’re going to devalue the residential properties,” she said.
“I’m not a huge fan of this plan, the way it is, but I think it’s a good starting point,” Councilor Edwards said. “We need to think about the other voters in this town who would be negatively impacted by us not doing something like this, who may be injured when they’re riding illegally up and down the gas pipelines or on our streets, not just in the south end of town or the north end of town.”
You can’t measure noise just by decibel level, said Councilor Hilton. The noise that’s objectionable “is noise of such duration as to be detrimental to the life, health, or welfare of an individual, or noise which either steadily or intermittently injures or endangers the comfort, repose, peace, or safety of any individual.”
Council Chabot spoke against that aspect of the comp plan that took rights away from property owners in designating whole areas of town as R-10. R-30 or R-80. Commercial businesses “lost a lot of rights when we made certain areas R-80.”
“When I see something like this,” said Councilor Chabot, “I think, wow, that would be great for young adults to have a recreational area to go to.”
Children in school have “soccer, basketball, football, but once you’re out of school, it would be nice to have an area like this,” she said, that would be “supervised, have medical issues and safety issues taken care of, and possibly save their lives.”

Zoning board is next

The motocross proposal, and the zoning conflict it has precipitated, has become an epic procedural whack-a-mole battle.

The upcoming zoning board appeal on May 2 had previously been set for a hearing on Dec. 6, which was continued to allow the town council to conduct the public hearing April 9 (itself at least twice postponed).
Meanwhile, as the zoning appeals and proposed zoning amendments have been pending and debated, the town itself launched a lawsuit against Mr. Johnson in Superior Court.
The town’s lawsuit, which is temporarily on hold until the zoning board issues its ruling, seeks a declaratory judgment that Mr. Johnson’s motocross track is a violation of the town zoning ordinance and is a public nuisance.
The town also asks for an injunction against Mr. Johnson’s motocross activities, and seeks fines against him of $500 a day for each time he conducts motocross activities on the property.
These legal maneuverings all take place against a backdrop in which the planning board has twice considered, and unanimously rejected, Mr. Johnson’s motocross park proposal, as has the town’s open space commission.

At stake, a grand proposal

The language of the proposed, but now failed, amendment specified that uses may have included "motocross, biking, and/or carting, as well as the provision of training, instruction, and educational services related to such uses, and incidental storage and accessory uses."

Such "incidental storage and accessory uses" could have included water, septic, parking, lighting, and other facilities for users and spectators and guests.

Mr. Johnson himself had informed all council members (and then town planner, Marc Rousseau) by letter last April 12, 2017 of the business plan he had in mind for the Brayton Road location, though the details of his plans have not formally appeared on any agenda of the town council or planning board, according to Town Clerk Nancy Mello and Planning Board Administrative Officer Susan Gill.

In his April 12, 2017 letter, Mr. Johnson listed the following as among the elements of his proposed motocross operation: an amphitheater; a public address system; EMS, fire and ambulance services; exotic car garages, storage, villas and garages; a cleared area for parking; over 300 on-site private storage paddocks; a general store; a commercial "corner of industry retail outlets"; RV and camping accommodations; performance car and motorcycle club functions and events; manufacturer and promoter testing; on-site fuel and recharging services; the presence of technical, safety, security and operational personnel; a club house banquet facility, recreational rental equipment and services; trackside pub, lounge and catering services.

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