Despite debating issues of noise, litter, traffic and safety, the Greencastle Board of Zoning Appeals Tuesday night approved the operation of a dirt-bike and four-wheeler race course north of town.
In a 3-1 vote that concluded a more than three-hour meeting at City Hall, the BZA awarded the use variance in the Agricultural (AG) district to petitioner Jeffrey A. Cantonwine involving his family-owned property at 474 W. CR 50 North.
Board member Kathy Ferrand made the motion to approve the request, which received a second from Paul Sanders. BZA Chairman Donnie Watson also cast a favorable vote, while John Phillips voted no to set the final margin.
Approval, however, did not come without lengthy discussion or a laundry list of stipulations, the most important of which was a limit of three weekends per calendar year for organized ATV or dirt-bike racing on the 551-acre site in Greencastle Township (the city has jurisdiction over zoning issues in the two-mile fringe area).
In approving Cantonwine's special exception, the BZA also imposed several limitations:
-- Each event may last no longer than 48 hours, beginning on Friday evening and ending Sunday evening.
-- All racing must occur during daylight hours.
-- No engine revving, warm-up or racing activities are allowed prior to 8 a.m.
-- No racing activities may occur after 8 p.m. or 30 minutes prior to sundown, whichever comes first.
-- Local emergency entities must be notified in writing at least 14 days prior to an event, namely: The Greencastle Fire Department, Greencastle Police Department, Putnam County Sheriff's Department and Putnam County Operation Life.
-- Also to be notified in writing at least 14 days prior to an event are all neighbors within 250 feet of the property and all other people who request notice in writing.
-- The applicant shall provide safety personnel acceptable to the Putnam County sheriff at any and all locations and times where racing vehicles cross county roads.
-- The applicant shall provide a minimum of five emergency management/safety personnel on site during each race.
-- The City of Greencastle shall be listed as an additional insured, at amounts acceptable to the city, on the applicant's insurance policy covering the racing events.
-- The applicant shall provide personnel to pick up trash along the right-of-way of all primary routes leading to the racing venue within 24 hours of the last race of the event.
City Attorney Laurie Hardwick reminded the group -- which included an audience of more than 30 people -- that the use variance will only remain in effect while Cantonwine owns the property, and may not be expanded, extended or enlarged unless reauthorized by the BZA.
In approving the petition, the BZA also issued a findings of fact, which included the following five conclusions and supporting statements:
1. The approval of the use variance was found not to be injurious to the public health, safety, morals and general welfare of the community.
-- While the use will increase traffic and involve crossing county roads and culverts, the BZA noted, the applicant has taken numerous safety precautions, including notifying emergency agencies, and having medical services available on site during races.
-- The race does not cross any roads within city limits. Neither the County Highway Department nor the Sheriff's Department objects to the events and there is more than one means of ingress/egress to the property.
2. The use and value of the area adjacent to the property included in the variance will not be affected in a substantially adverse manner.
-- Although additional noise is expected during the events, the noise will be limited to daylight hours and there will be only three events per year. Meanwhile, other events occurring nearby at the Putnam County Fairgrounds generate similar noise and are limited in duration, it was noted.
3. The need for the use variance arises from some condition peculiar to the property involved.
-- The Cantonwine property in question was traditionally used as a confined feeding hog farm. Due to conservation efforts and reviews by the Natural Resource Conservation Office and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, free-range hog farming is not allowed on parts of the property. In addition, much of the property is comprised of wooded, rolling hills, incongruous with agricultural uses and farming. The site is a large piece of land, and the races would be insulated on the land of the applicant (except where it crosses the county road), the board noted.
4. Strict application of the terms of the ordinance would constitute an unnecessary hardship as applied to the property for which the variance is sought.
-- As previously noted, the property is not considered usable as a free-range hog farm, and sections of the property are not usable as agricultural land due to topography, the BZA pointed out.
5. Granting of the variance does not interfere substantially with the Comprehensive Plan.
-- The proposed use, leaving the land undeveloped and in a natural setting, is consistent with the City of Greencastle Comprehensive Plan's goal of preservation of clean air and water, the preservation of environmental features for the sake of natural beauty, "minimizing the environmental impacts of new development, and maintaining the existing environmental quality that is an asset of the community."