A community perspective on raceways' expansion | GUEST OP
April 7, 2012 · Updated 11:31 AM
By Soos Creek Area Response
For the Auburn Reporter
We are not against business, economic growth or reasonable upgrades at Pacific Raceways.
What we objected to were the original plans by the owner, Jason Fiorito, to build a million-square-foot commercial/retail facility, which initially included a hotel, restaurants and a car dealership on the wish list – in order to enhance profit-making opportunities. The uses were illegal on the P-suffix industrial zoned property, which makes anything unrelated to racing not allowed.
It is important to keep in mind, the ordinance that was approved by King County Council on March 19, had undergone numerous revisions from the original 2010 proposed legislation – after the community became involved. The original version was withdrawn in January 2011, by sponsor King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, after intense pressure from public resistance.
That first ordinance was described by supporters as a win-win for the track and the community, but it only gave advantages to Pacific Raceways. It was a disastrous piece of legislation that would have subverted state laws, by changing codes and adopting amendments to allow a free path for Fiorito to accomplish what he wanted.
In addition, unbeknownst to the general population surrounding the raceways, the original ordinance would have replaced the Conditional Use Permit it had been operating under since 1984 and removed any restrictions on days and hours of operation; meaning the track could have chosen to run midnight races any night of the week, year round.
Also, it would have denied any public input during the process and given Fiorito an unfettered license to avoid any environmental accountability during and after construction for up to 20 years.
Thanks to the diligence of a handful of residents, who essentially discovered the first ordinance in 2010 quietly moving toward approval, the community became aware of what a devastating result it would be for their peace of mind, their property values and the risk to the state's biggest fish hatchery and salmon-bearing streams near the track—so they organized to block the approval.
Soos Creek Area Response, or SCAR, which currently has about 500 people in its database, was formed.
Regardless of the fact that many SCAR participants lived miles away from the track and the objective was to see that a jobs-at-all-cost mentality was not allowed to plunder decades of hard won community protections – we were quickly labeled as NIMBY's (not in my back yard) in media interviews by the principles involved and expansion supporters.
Nevertheless, SCAR began working with John Starbard, the new director at Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES), in 2010 to stop Pacific Raceways, once and for all, from continuing to violate its operating permit regarding kart track operations and required "quiet" days. After an eight-month investigation, including review of decades of noise complaints, the King County Prosecutor's office served Pacific Raceways, Proformance Driving School and Pacific Grand Prix (kart track) with a Notice of Order for three counts of violations.
The track appealed and the case went before the Hearing Examiner on Jan. 9, 2012. Judge James O'Connor upheld all three NOV's against Pacific Raceways and its partners. He released his decision several days after the final ordinance was passed by King County Council.
Yes, any expansion of the track still faces an uphill battle, because it will be required, for the first time in its 50-plus years of operation, to undergo a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This facility is bordered on two sides by green belts, wildlife corridors, underground aquifers and wetlands interconnected to Soos Creek tributaries flush in the spring with endangered Chinook salmon and bull trout. And neighbors for up to five miles away can hear the noise from its operation.
SCAR does not oppose responsible expansion and modernization at Pacific Raceways, but track management will not be allowed to override buffer protections and build right up to steep slopes as it originally planned or block public input, in order to increase profit at the expense of its neighbors.
Furthermore, track management will no longer be allowed to re-interpret language in any future Conditional Use Permit to its own advantage, because Judge O'Connor's ruling demonstrates that the track's operators are not above the law, and the "grandfathered in" defense will not work.
EIS on the menu
The public will have numerous opportunities during the EIS process to participate in the formation of policy regarding Pacific Raceways' impending practices. Among many, it will include days and hours of operation, noise mitigation, enforcement and penalties, best management practices for storm water, petroleum chemical discharge and other potential pollution, along with restrictions on limited manufacturing.
Fioroto has stated that he wants to work more closely with the community in an effort to be a better neighbor. If that is true, it would be a refreshing and welcome change.
Meanwhile, the application and EIS process will take several years to complete, and we will remain dedicated to protecting the rights of the community, limiting the risk to associated ecosystems and the fight to retain the natural character of rural South King County.
Peter Tetlow, chairman of Soos Creek Area Response, submitted the guest editorial, which was written by Jean Williams, SCAR staff writer.