The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday night heard more about a proposal to build a motoplex on borough-owned land off North Tongass Highway, but decided not to vote on a motion that would have directed staff to start a process that would eventually have led to a hearing before the planning commission. That doesn’t mean the development group, Thunder Mountain Raceway Park, Inc., can’t still approach the planning commission directly to present its plans for consideration.
A work session that preceded the decision lasted almost two hours. At the beginning of the session, Planning Director Richard Harney provided background.
The initial request came to the assembly in March 2018. Thunder Mountain is seeking to lease borough land to construct a motocross-type facility that would feature a loop track, go cart area and drag strip.
Harney says several sites around the borough were considered, including private land. He says the proposed site near Mile 13 North Tongass Highway seemed a “decent” fit, and has potential for future development.
“There are a few rolling hills in there that you could develop fairly simply if there were a road into that property. And it could increase the housing stock.”
Harney says planning commission staff is not recommending approval of a lease. He says staff is seeking direction on whether a process should be started that would begin public meetings on the proposal.
The assembly had numerous questions for developer Lee Brock. Several assembly members commented that they’ve received phone calls and letters of concern about possible noise. Brock says his group did sound tests using 44-caliber pistols and did not find decibel readings change at Pond Reef.
“Being up on this hill where it’s at, there are 720 acres in front of that piece of property. That’s why the roads have to be punched in to get back to that piece of ground. And that noise will go up the canyon.”
Brock says roads to the site would be constructed with volunteer labor and supplies at no cost to the borough. He says he hopes to develop the project to give children something else to do.
“…besides what they’re getting themselves into. It will give them responsibility. It will teach them motor skills. Someone asked me about putting in a Driver’s Ed (course) up there, which would be great to bring the kids up and teach them how to drive in a safe area.”
He says the facilities would be for adults too.
Brock also was asked why another location is not feasible. He says other properties that were considered had safety issues, were close to popular recreation areas or would be more difficult to develop. Additional questions were asked about power and access to the site, construction costs, hours of operation and whether it would be operated seasonally or year-round.
During comment, homeowner Cindi Davis says she lives in that neighborhood because it’s quiet and peaceful. She says she would like to see a noise impact study done by professionals.
“When they were asking, ‘What could be done? What do the homeowners want?’ I think that would be something that would be helpful with the homeowners – if there was an independent, third-party study of the sound impact to homeowners.”
Davis says the studies should be representative of what a race track would sound like, and also suggested that homeowners be informed when studies are done so they can listen.
Assembly member Rodney Dial asked Davis if she could support the project if it was proven noise was not a problem. Davis said “yes.” She says she would like to see more activities for kids, but not at the expense of current home owners.
Dial says noise may or may not be an issue.
“I would hate to kill an economic opportunity and a way to increase the quality of life for certain people if noise wasn’t an issue.”
He says he would like to give the Thunder Mountain group an opportunity to study the issue.
Assembly member Alan Bailey says of all the issues brought before the assembly, he’s probably received the most calls about this, with noise being the biggest concern. Bailey says he doesn’t want to give false hope, and even if professional acoustic testing is done, there still could be objections from property owners. He says this is one of the most pristine site areas on the island.
“…that I was in hope, someday, that we would in fact create affordable housing to first-time home buyers, to those people who really need a place to stay and it’s very difficult in this community to get those affordable homes…”
He says he does not believe building a road up to a motoplex will attract homebuyers to that area.
Dial proposed a motion that would have deferred consideration of the issue, up to a month, to allow the Thunder Mountain group to provide more information to the assembly. Dial and assembly member Sven Westergard voted in favor, with members Bailey, A.J. Pierce, Susan Pickrell and Judith McQuerry voting against. Assembly member Felix Wong was absent.
Though the assembly did not approve the motion, Thunder Mountain can still apply directly to the planning commission for consideration. It’s up to that group to decide whether or not to move forward.