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Mat-Su loosens racetrack regs

Zaz Hollander

Andy Andersen's unofficial racetrack on his Sutton property has spawned five champion youth motocross racers.

He has been calling it his "secret ninja training facility" in part because he didn't want his critics to know where the place was.

Until this week, Andersen worried they could make him put up a fence or watch his noise under the Matanuska-Susitna Borough's racetrack ordinance.

Then the Mat-Su Borough Assembly on Tuesday night loosened some of the ordinance's provisions and restored Andersen's peace of mind.

"Nobody was really trying to stop us from doing i but we were looking at the wording and it was looking like somebody could," he said Thursday. "Now we can host as many races as we want, as many training days as we want. So that's big for us."

Supporters say the changes fix overly strict racetrack rules written in reaction to complaints about the now-shuttered North Star Speedway. Those old rules, meant to curb the impacts of the big operation, inadvertently put the heat on small operations like Andersen's, they say.

Critics of the changes say the revised ordinance might help the smaller operations but it also loosens restrictions on Alaska Raceway Park in Butte, the one commercial drag strip in the Valley, already a source of some complaints from neighbors.

The changes, proposed by Assembly member Ron Arvin and approved in a 5-2 vote Tuesday, include a provision declaring the rules apply only to commercial, permanent tracks. That's meant to protect Andersen as well as nonprofit, temporary Big Lake snowmachine race supporters who wanted to avoid the permits and noise regulations required under the borough's existing track rules.

But the Assembly also made changes like stripping a May-September racing window and allowing for short-term noise increases that will benefit Raceway Park, located at a 50-year-old drag strip along the Old Glenn Highway.

One of the few detractors of the revised regulations who testified Tuesday, Butte resident Gregory Nilsson, told the Assembly that he lives a mile away from the strip and gets blasted by sound when the revving engines and amplified loudspeakers start up at the track.

"When he is running, we cannot have a conversation," Nilsson said. He unsuccessfully urged the Assembly to reject the short-term noise increase.

Raceway Park owner Earl Lackey on Tuesday called the existing ordinance "bad legislation restricting legitimate businesses from growing and operating in the Valley."

He urged the Assembly to adopt language saying the ordinance applies only within the borough's dense "core area" between Palmer and Wasilla.

An amendment from Arvin to apply the racetrack regulations to the core area was defeated in a 4-3 vote.

Assembly members Jim Colver and Jim Sykes criticized the core-area-only proposal. Colver said it amounted to deregulating all but the population center, and without enough public notice.

Sykes said the only commercial track in the borough, Raceway Park, would have been left out. So would the dirt stock-car track at Capitol Speedway in Willow.

"Wouldn't that make the ordinance irrelevant?" he asked.

The debate tapped into the Valley's long-standing battle over government's role in planning.

The borough first adopted the racing regulations in response to noise and other concerns about the now-closed North Star Speedway, located on the fringes of suburbia near the Parks Highway between Palmer and Wasilla. The Assembly in 2006 broadened the ordinance to include the entire borough.

The fight over North Star led to the creation of the nonprofit group Friends of Mat-Su, which formed to advocate for zoning in the Valley.

The path to Tuesday night's vote was convoluted.

Assembly member Darcie Salmon proposed the first changes to the racetrack ordinance back in December in response to a request from the Big Lake snowmachiners. The Assembly in February voted to postpone indefinitely any changes to the existing rules after questions arose whether the regulations applied at all to the Big Lake groups or the Sutton motocross track. Mayor Larry DeVilbiss in February vetoed that decision. The Assembly failed to overturn the veto.

In comments Tuesday, Salmon called the final, less-restrictive changes "angst-ridden."

He let loose a tirade about how much the Valley has changed since his stint as borough mayor starting in the late 1990s when North Star went in and the racetrack ordinance was crafted.

Soon to follow, Salmon said, was "the most egregious stripping of private rights ever put before us that we're still wrestling with today": ordinances covering noise, special events ordinances, tall communications towers and lake management plans.

"Where do we live? I thought we lived in the wilderness but I'm mistaken," he said. "The Lower 48 has taken us over."

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or in Wasilla at 907-352-6705.


By ZAZ HOLLANDER
zhollander@adn.com