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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 3, 2009
Shavers stopped in their tracks, Westerlo divided over motocross
By Zach Simeone
WESTERLO A plan by the Shaver brothers to build a motocross track on Route 85 in the midst of woods and farmland has created upheaval in this rural Helderberg town.
Some neighbors don’t want the noise or dirt. Others think that such a project would provide a safe space for having fun and keeping kids off the streets.
The town does not currently regulate motocross, a popular spectator sport that involves racing dirt bikes around curves and over jumps. The planning board chairman said motocross could generate revenue for Westerlo.
Doyle and Trent Shaver were issued a cease and desist notice last month after they began excavating for the project before acquiring any permits or submitting an application to the town.
The brothers decided to build the track because they have always been into outdoor activities, “whether it’s hunting, snowmobiling, four-wheeling, or dirt bikes,” Doyle Shaver told The Enterprise. “But we never really had the room to have a project like this. So, when we purchased this house earlier this year, we talked about it and thought about it a lot and said, ‘Let’s look into making this happen.’”
The property the Shavers hope to build on is 93 acres, but the scale on an illustration on the Shavers’ website, www.carriagewaymx.com, suggests that the proposed track is barely more than 200 meters across.
“As of right now, we’re working on figuring out what permits we need,” Shaver said. “We have an idea of what we want, and we have quite a bit of land to house this, but hopefully we’ll know more in the next month or two.”
The brothers have an ad on albany.craigslist.org seeking employees for the proposed track.
In the neighborhood
A number of town residents voiced their opposition at Tuesday’s town board meeting, afraid that noise would be an issue, and expressed a collective sentiment that a motocross track would compromise the rural character of the town. Some suggested an amendment to the town’s zoning law that outlawed motocross completely.
In response, Planning Board Chairman Tony Sherman said that, while he did not necessarily agree or disagree with the placement of a track on the Shavers’ land, banning motocross in all of Westerlo could mean eliminating the possibility of creating businesses that may generate a significant revenue stream for the town.
“Any other motocross that has ever been built or operated has had neighbors that oppose it,” Shaver said. “We didn’t want to sneak this in and not have our neighbors know what we’re doing, so I put out a couple petitions just to get an idea of whether or not we would have people that approve of it. If I didn’t get good feedback on petitions, and if the majority of people opposed it, we probably wouldn’t be looking into pursuing it, but the feedback has been excellent, so, at this point, we’re just trying to do what we need to do and get approval from the town,” he said.
Shaver went on to say that, should their plan come to fruition, “We’ll do everything we can to eliminate the noise or dust that might be offensive to our neighbors, and, hopefully, even if they don’t approve of it, we can still make it OK for them.”
“I would say that it would be unfortunate,” said Anderson Smith of a possible motocross track. Smith has lived on Route 85, down the road from the site, for almost 30 years. He spoke out at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I tried to make the point that I think the proposal, were it to go forward, would be inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood,” Smith said. “All along Woodstock Road are primarily residences. I think that the sentiment of the surrounding neighbors is such that any noise is going to bring with it concomitant dust and air pollution.”
John Giarrusso, another neighbor at Tuesday’s meeting who lives on Woodstock Road, wrote a letter to Supervisor Richard Rapp, requesting that all development of this plan be halted.
“What sort of petrochemicals will get into a hayfield next to a motocross race track?” Giarrusso asked in his letter. “A motorized vehicle racetrack would threaten our health by creating noise, polluted water and air, dust and exhaust,” he wrote, adding later, “The racetrack will generate constant noise that will harm not only our quality of life, but also our livelihoods.”
Debbie Theiss-Mackey said that, if such a facility is created, there should be curfews controlling noise by determining how late riders could use the track.
Other residents, some of whom are dirt bike, motorcycle, and ATV enthusiasts, have said that this kind of facility would bring great benefits.
“We think it’s a phenomenal idea,” Lisa Degroff told The Enterprise this week. Her family lives on the corner of Woodstock Road and Route 85. “His woods are abutting across the street, so we hear them riding around there,” she said.
Mrs. Degroff and her husband, Bruce, have a son who has his own dirt bike, and they have wanted him to have a safe place to ride, she said.
“[Shaver] wants to give young people a safe place to gather, learn good sportsmanship, and learn what it’s like to be around people, so we offered our volunteer services to get going with it whatever he needs,” Degroff said.
“I don’t see any problem with it at all,” said Joseph Vitetta, who also lives on Route 85. “First of all, it’s their land. They own it, they pay the taxes on it, and they should be able to do whatever they want on it. And, it would be something for the kids to do besides hang out in the streets,” he said.
“I would hate to make waves if this is something that really isn’t going to happen,” Shaver said. “We have an idea of what we want, and we have a plan laid out, but, if we don’t get approval from the town, or some other department, we’ll probably look into just having something smaller for our personal use, for family and friends. But we’re not going to know that until we find out more.”
“It’s not a regulated use,” said the town’s attorney, Aline Galgay, of building a motocross track. “We have special-use permits for commercial activities, and they would have to come to us for site-plan approval and special-use permit approval, so they’d have to have approval for all the excavating work they’re doing, and for operating whatever it is that they’re operating. But it’s hard for us to comment because there’s no formal application before the town,” she said.
Because the Shavers have not approached the town in any way about this project, Galgay advised the town board against expressing any sort of opinion on the project at Tuesday’s meeting, and said the town could not take further action yet because no application has been made.
“They didn’t violate town law, but what they may have done was disturbed stormwater management requirements,” said Galgay, referring to regulations set by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, “so the town issued the cease and desist so that DEC could figure that out.”
According to Ed Lawson, the town’s building inspector, the Shavers are in violation of articles 9 and 10 of the town zoning law, which require a formal application, site plan review, and a request for a special-use permit.
Lawson first learned of the Shavers’ project on Aug. 12, in an e-mail from Leslie Lombardo, a senior planner at the Albany County Department of Economic Development, Conservation and Planning.
“It’s come to the attention of our department that a motocross track is under construction on a parcel on the northwest corner of [Route] 85 and Woodstock,” Lombardo wrote. “Obviously, a review process by the Town is required prior to construction, including a submittal to Albany County Planning Board due to the location on [Route] 85 and surrounding [agricultural] district parcels. The owner also looks to be in violation of state stormwater management practices for land clearing over one acre in size…We would appreciate it if the town would investigate this construction work, if you have not already done so.”
Lawson received another e-mail that afternoon from Carol Lamb-LaFay at the DEC, indicating that her office would be mailing a notice of violation to the Shavers, advising them of the need to develop a stormwater pollution prevention plan and obtain a SPDES (State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit prior to any “earth-moving activities.”
“As soon as I figured out what was going on, I issued a cease and desist order to Mr. Shaver and told him that it appears he’s in violation of DEC stormwater management,” Lawson told The Enterprise, as excavation had already begun.
A stormwater management plan by a licensed DEC engineer is required when construction disturbs more than one acre of land.
To “disturb” the land, Lawson said, means that, “If you cut the vegetation or scrape the earth so that there’s no growth there, that’s a disturbance.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Lawson said that construction on the track has stopped. The excavator, Chris Chmielewski, could not be reached for comment.
“It can’t progress until they get a special-use permit, which has to be prepared for the planning board, and then the planning board reviews the application and puts restrictions or additional information on it,” said Lawson. “In this case, they would require review from DEC, Army Corps of Engineers for endangered species it would have to go through the full environmental review. Once it went through all that, it would have to go to public hearing.”