A long-running dispute over the operation of the Valley Speedway, mainly stemming from the noise the dirt racetrack generates, has come to a head in Grain Valley.
An overflow crowd of more than 100 people, most of them race fans, were at City Hall at least for the start Thursday night of what turned out to be a 4 1/2-hour quasi-judicial public hearing on a proposal to revoke the track’s conditional use permit.
The Board of Aldermen then adjourned to a private executive session for an hour to discuss the matter.
When they emerged about 12:25 a.m. Friday, they quickly voted unanimously to revoke the track’s permit to operate — effective after this racing season on Oct. 1.
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They also directed the city administrative and legal staff to negotiate over a new permit with track operator Dennis Shrout and the owners of the other, adjacent entities covered by the permit.
“There were no surprises,” Shrout said when it was over. “It was exactly what I thought they would do. I think the decision was made before the meeting started.”
Shrout said he would confer with his attorney about whether to accept the city’s offer to negotiate over a new permit or to sue, seeking to continue operating under the old rules.
“I think it can be worked out,” said Mayor Mike Todd. “There will have to be give and take on both sides.”
Alderman Dale Arnold also expressed hope that a way can be found so that the track can continue to operate next season.
“It may not make everybody happy, but it could be livable,” Arnold said. “We’ve worked for four years to try to find some way of making it acceptable.”
There were “problems,” Arnold said, with the conditional use permit under which the track has operated since its inception in 2003. The permit covers not only the auto racetrack but the adjacent motocross track, also owned by Shrout, a sand drag strip owned by another company and a city-owned football complex.
Much of the testimony Thursday centered on a provision of the permit that limits noise generated by the track to 65 decibels at the property lines on each side.
City Attorney James Cook said Shrout had failed to meet a provision calling for him to submit a sound study annually and criticized the methodology of the one study Shrout submitted earlier this year, showing the track met the 65-decibel standard.
There was also testimony about whether Shrout met the permit conditions for submitting traffic and safety notices to the local fire and police departments before each event and whether the track had the required signs warning patrons that it was subject to flash flooding.
“This is not about David and Goliath or the city picking on Mr. Shrout,” Cook said at the outset. “It’s about compliance.”
Assistant City Administrator Ryan Hunt testified about the history of city actions and citizen noise complaints about the track. Shrout testified about the measures he had taken to try to limit the noise from race cars, including requiring them to use quieter mufflers and adding billboards and trees around the track.
During the public comment portion of the hearing, 10 people spoke; nine of them asking the board to allow the track to remain in operation and just one complaining about the noise.
Jeff Coleman, the president of the Grain Valley Chamber of Commerce, asked the board to think deeply before pulling the track’s operating permit, saying that race fans support the surrounding businesses.
“It affects a lot more than Dennis,” Coleman said. “It affects our other businesses.”
During a break in the testimony, a couple of race fans expressed their unhappiness with the proceeding, saying the city government was trying to shut down a business that kept young men from racing on the streets and channeled their energy onto the track.
“It’s nothing but a land grab, like they did with KCIR,” said Ron Peres, referring to Kansas City’s 2011 purchase of the Kansas City International Raceway with the plan to turn the old asphalt drag strip into a city park.
“It’s another assault against a family venue,” said Steve Boswell. “My girls race there … It’s loud in the grandstand, but my 8-year-old isn’t bothered by it.”
Both Mayor Todd and Alderman Arnold said they were inclined to reconsider the 65-decibel limit set forth in the track’s current permit, both as to the reasonability of the figure and providing more specificity on how it is calculated.