Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

Track ban plan splits St. Marys residents

By Sydney Albert
ST. MARYS - About 30 members of the St. Marys community filled city council chambers on Monday to denounce or support legislation banning racetracks within city limits.
The debate over a controversial private go-kart track at 1770 Celina Road played out in the chambers as neighbors of the track's owner and their families voiced concerns, and the owner and supporters defended it.
Other concerned citizens from both in and around St. Marys also spoke out, some saying the city government was overreaching and others saying they believed the track would be safer to have in the country.
Neighbors who had lived near the Celina Road property for decades said they opposed the track, with one saying he would have never bought his house if the neighboring house had a track on it at the time. They and several family members and friends spoke of seeing damage done to the surrounding properties because of the track, of issues with dust and mud kicked up on the dirt track and safety concerns.
The track is located in the front yard of the home on Celina Road, which is also part of State Route 703, and several people worried a kart could go off the track and hit a pedestrian or be hit by a car.
Several people also brought up the issue of property values, saying it could encourage others in town to make unconventional use of their yards, which would in turn devalue their properties.
Kelly Huber said while property owner Aaron Myers and his supporters seemed very concerned about their personal rights, they had no issue infringing upon the rights of others. Aside from believing a track located so close to State Route 703 was a safety issue, Huber said Myers's guests often walked through her parents' yard, showing no regard for other people's rights and safety.
Some citizens were on the fence, saying they saw the possible safety hazard the track could pose, but also agreed Myers has a right to do with his property what he chooses, so long as he took precautions.
Ashley Slife said she understands both sides but asserted that people who pay property taxes should have freedom to do what they wish upon it. The trailer park adjacent to the properties involved in the dispute could also affect property values, she pointed out.
Supporters of the track said it offered kids something to do in St. Marys, where they don't have a lot of other options. One man said a farmer across the street from the property could kick up dust when he was working in his fields, and that in regards to safety, kids riding into the roads without helmets seemed like a bigger issue. Another said he believes the punishment outlined in the ordinance for violations, which called for up to 1,000 hours of community service, was cruel and unusual.
Jerry Rupert said as a matter of principle, he believed targeted legislation was repugnant, and the proposed ordinance "reeks of government overreach."
Brian Parker said no incidents of people getting hurt at the track have been reported, and council members were focusing on frivolous issues and dismantling personal rights of its citizens.
Judy Weng, a former St. Marys councilwoman, said she didn't believe it was legal to make zoning ordinances retroactive, and council members would be setting a dangerous precedent if the proposed ordinance is allowed to pass - that citizens in St. Marys could create something on their property that was completely legal, but if enough neighbors complained, the city could force them to tear it down.
"If every citizen in this community can be treated this way, we are all at risk," Weng said, followed by a round of applause from the track's supporters. She continued on to say the zoning practices in the city have always been horrible, with council members passing legislation retroactively rather than before an issue was raised.
None of the issues brought up by neighbors had been said directly to him before, Myers said. He reiterated that he and his friends had done everything in their power to make the track safe and to prevent excessive dust. He said he has never had incidents of EMTs, the fire department or police called to the track for a safety infraction.
Myers said he had collected close to 1,300 signatures in an online petition showing support for his track and had 120 handwritten signatures ready to present to the council. Council president Jim Harris said Myers would need to include addresses with the names to submit a petition to council.
As the council heard first reading of the ordinance, council member Dan Uhlenhake said he believed the track looked terrible in the city limits and should be out in the country. Council member Dan Fleagle said he loved the track but believed tracks could not be allowed within the city limits.
The ordinance will be up for its second reading at the next city council meeting at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 10 at the municipal building. Ordinances generally require three readings before they can be passed and enacted.
In other business, council members also passed under rule suspension an ordinance allowing a $30,000 one-time donation to the St. Marys Chamber of Commerce to assist the chamber with hardships related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
A streets and sidewalks committee meeting was also scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Aug. 3.
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