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Saratoga Speedway proponents say majority are in favour of the facility

CVRD has voted to amend its noise bylaw to appease those adversely affected by the race track
The Saratoga Speedway 2022 racing season kicked off Saturday, April 30, to a good-sized crowd. Photo by Doug Waller

The Comox Valley Regional District has voted to amend its noise bylaw to address concerns brought forward to the board regarding the noise emanating from Saratoga Speedway.

Repeated complaints from a group named the Saratoga Speedway Complex Concerned Citizens (SSCCC) is the catalyst for the decision.

The saga began with the SSCCC calling for a moratorium surrounding a planned development at the site.

Johnathan Brenner, one of the spokespeople for the group, had a petition signed by more than 600 people opposing a planned development of the race track, which included a campground and RV park.

In response to the petition, track owners Rob and Lee Leighton withdrew their application for rezoning.

But the complaints did not end there. The SSCCC also began filing noise complaints with the CVRD. In a June presentation, Brenner claimed that the volume and frequency of noise has reached a point where friends and relatives no longer want to visit because they can’t carry on a conversation in backyards.

On June 28, the CVRD voted in favour of amending the noise bylaw, to appease affected residents’ concerns.

But many area residents are saying that group does not speak for the majority.

Marije Wagenmakers lives in Black Creek and has been voicing her opposition to the SSCCC’s agenda.

When Wagenmakers heard about the original SSCCC petition, she started one herself, amassing more than 3,500 signatures on a petition titled ‘Saratoga Speedway Supporters.’

The plan was to present the counter-petition to the CVRD during the rezoning public hearing, but once the Leightons removed their application, the public hearing was cancelled. Once the application for rezoning was cancelled, Wagenmakers thought the issue was settled.

“We were going to present all the signatures and all the comments we received from everybody (supporting the business) but then they withdrew their application,” she said. “But they keep changing (their agenda). At one time it was only about the campground. Then it became about the fish. Now it’s about the speedway. They just want it gone, for some reason.”

Wagenmakers said that while she can hear the cars from her house, she has not noticed an increase in the noise levels at all.

“We sit outside all the time and yes, you hear the cars, but you can still have a conversation,” she said. “The only thing that has bothered me in the past was all the cars (parking) on Macaulay. And that’s no longer an issue.”

Neils Holbek disagrees. Holbek, who has lived in the area since 1974, said his family was not able to enjoy the Victoria Day weekend due to four days of noise and pollution from Saratoga Speedway.

“We accepted the activity at the track in the past… (but) there also seems to be more daily track time use than in the past.”

He is also concerned about the environmental impact of the track, stating that the days of auto racing should be done.

“The reckless use of fossil fuels for auto racing is anachronistic and frustrating for those of us that are striving to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Holbek, who suggests local government is insensitive to noise and air pollution emanating from the track.

Nick Roddam lives four houses down from the racetrack and says, in his estimation, the noise levels have actually decreased.

“I have lived here for the last six years and I have noticed a reduction in the noise levels,” he said. “The races are also not going as late, which I found more of an issue than the noise level itself. Noise level-wise compared to living in a major city or by a major highway it’s not that bad.

“Overall I am in support of the speedway. With the enhancements they have made I think more people are for it as it has reduced the noise in the area. The amenities at the track are nice too and practice night is free.”

Andrea Mantle Sorenson owns a house a couple of kilometres north of the speedway and says the noise is, “no different to me” than it ever was. She has been there for approximately 17 years.

“I knew the track was there (when I bought the house)… I know race tracks are loud, but it’s nothing that has ever bothered me,” she said, adding the group of protestors is not indicative of the majority of Black Creek residents.

“It’s a very small group. I think the majority of the community is in favour. You go out there on a Saturday night, it’s packed… I get that people have different opinions, but don’t say you represent the entire community, because that is not the case, at all. Unfortunately, the people who don’t like things are always the loudest, and I feel like that is kind of what happened here. It’s a small group complaining…”

Mantle Sorenson added the track has been a steady employer for area students, which is something typically lacking in smaller communities.

“My son works there now, and other than (Saratoga) there is very little employment opportunities for kids. Maybe one or two will get employment at Discovery Foods, and that’s it. They can’t work at the liquor store or the medical centre. I’ve seen my son’s schedule and there are like 39 kids on there that he goes to school with. If those kids aren’t employed, what are they going to be doing on the weekend?”

Mantle Sorenson noted there was a plan in place to have all the young workers attend the public hearing, to show the CVRD the economic impact the racing park has.

Jan Hall has lived in Black Creek for 30 years, and says although she is not a racing fan, she loves that the facility is part of the community.

“I don’t go there, it’s not my ‘thing’ but it’s part of Black Creek and I love that we have it,” she said. “The area is changing and lots of new people are coming in but they can’t expect everything to change for them. I see complaints about lots of things in Black Creek that have been here for ages. It’s great to add to the vibe and culture but not to destroy and replace it.”

Saratoga Speedway owner Rob Leighton feels the CVRD’s process is flawed, and that the directors jumped the gun by amending the bylaw.

“There is no doubt about that,” he said. “It is unbelievable how this small group of people (SSCCC) have controlled the narrative. They are saying they are speaking for all of Black Creek, and they most definitely are not.”

Leighton said that while the SSCCC are organized and vocal, this is not a case of the CVRD not hearing any support for the race track. He said that while business commitments make it impossible for Leighton to appear at Electoral Area Services Committee meetings in person, he has sent correspondence on numerous occasions and has yet to see his letters read at the meetings.

He said when he received the agenda on Friday, June 24, for the June 28 meeting, he was out of the country, but did send in a letter expressing his concerns.

“I sent an email on the weekend, fully outlining the issues - I said this is not going to work - and they didn’t read it at the hearing. They didn’t even bring it up. They allow these people to have their delegation, and play videos that are completely blown out of proportion, and we get branded with the ‘big bad wolf’ brush. The directors definitely do not want to hear both sides.

“People need to know that the community supports the speedway out there, not the other way around,” said Leighton. “That small group is not the voice of Black Creek.”

Black Press reached out to all three regional district directors who received copies of the email.

“I believe all three of us saw the letter from Mr. Leighton,” said Area B director, Arzeena Hamir. “I referred to it during the discussion of the bylaw amendment in regards to end times. We received an overwhelming amount of emails from residents impacted by the noise who wanted the noise bylaw to reflect the historical use of the site - one practice day and one weekend race day. I feel we came up with a compromise that still enables Mr. Leighton to run his business but gives residents their evenings and two days a week of quiet.”

Leighton said he has not been offered any kind of appeal process to express his concerns about the amendment.

The original noise bylaw amendment brought forward to the June 13 meeting called for a 9:30 p.m. end time. Atr the June 28 meeting, the Electoral Areas Services Committee passed an amendment to the June 13 proposal, changing end times from 9:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“CVRD staff researched other areas with racetracks within their jurisdiction, as well as best practices around Db levels for auto racing and reached out to the owners of Saratoga Speedway on the proposed bylaw, and feedback received from the public,” said CVRD manager of bylaw compliance, Amanda Yasinski. “(There is) no formal appeal process, however a property owner could request that the CVRD board make further amendments or rescind the bylaw. To legally challenge a local government’s bylaw, or adoption of a bylaw, would involve an application through Provincial Court.”

Leighton pointed out that historically, racing at Saratoga ran until 11 p.m., and since his family took over ownership, the races have been finishing at 9 p.m.

“Yet we still get singled out that we are to be done by 8,” he said. “We thought we were doing all the right things for the community, but…”

As for the increased use of the facility, historical documents show the average number of events per year at Saratoga Speedway from 1996-2019 was 42.5. The 2022 schedule has 33 events - fewer than any year since 1996.
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Terry Farrell

About the Author: Terry Farrell

Terry returned to Black Press in 2014, after seven years at a daily publication in Alberta. He brings 14 years of editorial experience to Comox Valley Record...
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