Thompson Speedway to be subject of special town meeting
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Wed., Oct. 2, 2013
A $4 million construction plan at the Thompson International Speedway has some residents crying foul about what they see as a flawed approval process. Since June, there have been upgrades made to facilities including the construction of a new entrance, a registration building, a scoring building and a 32-car garage. Plans also call for paving a 1.7-mile road racing track. The project is expected to be complete by June 2014. It will be called the Thompson Speedway Motor Sports Park.
Resident Nicholas Swearer believes that local and state permit applications should have been filed and approved before construction began in June 2013. He said the construction amounts to an expansion project that will have a significant impact on the environment and the neighboring community.
But according to Speedway general manager Jonathan Hoenig, the construction amounts to a renovation project. “It’s not an expansion at all,” he said. “We’re renovating exactly what was here.”
The matter will be the subject of a special Board of Selectman’s meeting at 7 p.m. on Oct. 8, at the Thompson Public Library.
Swearer and 22 other town residents submitted a letter to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Sept. 23 asking that environmental and community impact studies be conducted, construction plans be made available to the community, noise abatement be installed, adequate insurance be maintained by the Speedway to cover potential damages, and legislation be enacted regarding the types of vehicles allowed on the tracks, as well as the days and hours of operation.
Hoenig submitted his own letter to the P&Z commission on the same day. In it he explained how the plan was consistent with the Speedway’s historical business model, that plans for minor drainage improvements met with Inland Wetlands approval and that a formal site plan was not required.
Hoenig also submitted a copy of a 15-page site development plan for the project that included project notes and construction details regarding a storm water detention pond. A registration was submitted to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Control for a general permit for the discharge of storm water and wastewaters on construction activities on Aug. 30, according to DEEP official Karen Allen. Storm water plans submitted on Sept. 20 will be used in the review of that application, she said.
Swearer believes that the DEEP review and registration should have occurred prior to the beginning of construction in June. And he believes that there are several regulations on the books that should have required permit applications, public hearings, and more rigorous requirements before approvals were given.
Thompson has regulations concerning non-conforming use, change in principal activity, earth removal and processing, and disturbances within 200 feet of noteworthy wetlands. The Zoning Enforcement Officer can sign off on the plans if he doesn’t think a special permit is required. Once he does sign off, the issue doesn’t go before the P&Z and it isn’t given a public hearing.
Swearer would like to know why ZEO John Mahon initially indicated that the project would need a special permit, only to change his mind after a Sept. 23 meeting with First Selectman Lawrence Groh, Jr., Director of Planning and Development Mary Ann Chianti, Donald Hoenig and Jonathan Hoenig. Mahon is unavailable for comment since he went on a leave of absence last week.
Hoenig contends that the plans are a reclaiming of a road track that has been on the property since the 1950s. The re-paved track would attract race club members for private events and high performance driving schools. Sponsored NASCAR events would drop from 20 events a year to six. The elimination of those large spectator events would also mean less noise and less litter for area residents, the letter stated.
“We believe the customers we are bringing into Thompson will have a positive impact on the type of eco-tourism that is desirable,” the letter reads. According to Hoenig, the Speedway went through the Wetland Commission approval process and passed. State of Connecticut permits were in place.
Swearer isn’t convinced that the changes will be for the better. He referenced a Norwich Bulletin article that plans were in place to use the track six to seven days a week. He has concerns about the proximity of a large project taking place close to Stump Pond, Quaddick Lake and significant wetlands. He mentioned increased traffic, safety concerns and declining real estate values.
“We have always made the best effort to do everything by the book and go through the proper process required,” Hoenig’s letter claims.
The Thompson Speedway Motor Sports Park is set to open in June 2014 for the 2014 season of road and oval racing, according to its website, http://www.thompsonspeedway.com/.