About 240 people signed a petition backing the speedway.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
HARTFORD -- By a vote of 2-1, trustees declined to change the township zoning map to allow Sharon Speedway to do more than host races.
Trustees' decision came after nearly two hours of comments by residents. Supporters of the zoning change proposed by Speedway owners talked about the benefits of having a thriving entertainment business in the community. Opponents complained of noise, dust and traffic emanating from the 75-year-old track.
Speedway owners sought to rezone the track property from residential to commercial.
All three trustees would have had to vote in favor of the zone change to overturn a recommendation against it by the township zoning commission. The Trumbull County Planning Commission also weighed in against the change.
There before zoning
The racetrack has been able to operate in an area zoned residential because it was there before zoning was introduced to Hartford, officials say. But rezoning the area commercial would allow the speedway to hold other types of events.
In a letter to trustees, track officials said they envisioned holding craft and car shows and corporate gatherings. But residents worried that the change could pave the way to music concerts and other noisy, high-traffic events.
"This would just give the track the most latitude," said trustee Randy Smith, who, along with trustee John Messersmith, voted against the zone change.
He said he would rather the track's desire to expand be accommodated with the creation of a racetrack zoning district. Such an approach would allow the township to retain more control over what's permitted at the track, he said.
Nothing like that exists in the township's zoning regulations now, and it would be up to the township to create it, said Warren Atty. Tom Nader, who represents Speedway owners.
"We had to play with the cards we are dealt," Nader said.
He said the owners had not discussed if they will challenge the decision in Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas or try to reverse it with a referendum.
Trustee Rebecca Whitman said she supported the speedway's rezoning proposal because the township's long range plan called for that area to develop into a commercial district.
"There are a lot of people in the township that do work at that track," she said. "It is a benefit to the region."
Trustees were presented with a petition with 240 signatures in favor of the speedway's proposal. They also received about 50 individual letters from people opposed to the plan.
Several opponents said they were upset about more frequent events at the track.
"It used to be that the track opened, we knew it was from spring to September, one or two days a week," said Joann Meakin, who lives nearby. "Now it is all the time."
Supporters credited speedway ownership for investing millions to improve the facility.
"They provide wholesome entertainment, family entertainment," said Dan Kerns, of Custer Orangeville Road. "I think they deserve our support."