Solutions slow-going at popular speedway.
COTTAGE GROVE - There'll be auto racing aplenty this weekend at the Cottage Grove Speedway, but the racetrack's owners may pay a price: While sprint and stock car fans watch the action, county officials will be on hand to tally up code violations that could result in daily fines plus permit fees totaling thousands of dollars.
Don Ward, a code enforcement officer with Lane County, visited the racetrack Friday, armed with a big map of the facility and a stack of stickers that read, "It is unlawful to occupy this building."
Ward slapped the first sticker on the wall next to the built-in concession booth under the nearly 50-year-old grandstand, then affixed another to the men's bathroom.
Climbing a flight of stairs at the south end of the grandstand, he put another at the entrance to a wooden seating area above a set of metal bleachers.
Two other sets of large bleachers and a wooden archway along the northern perimeter of the track also got the same treatment.
Racetrack operators Russell and Bob Leach, who own the facility jointly with their wives, watched Ward's progress from a distance.
But track manager Peggi Rush walked along with the enforcement officer, candidly discussing the issues that have put the speedway - referred to fondly in West Coast racing circles as "The Grove," she said - at odds with the county.
The racetrack has operated at its current location just north of the Cottage Grove city limits for 47 years. When the county revamped its zoning code in the 1970s, it designated the area for agriculture, grazing and timber.
Although the new zoning didn't ban the track outright, it said the speedway could continue only if no substantial changes occurred to its structures or operations.
That's where the rub comes. Through the years, the racetrack's various owners have made changes - new bleachers, substantial repairs and additions to the grandstand, a new men's restroom and concession stand, and replacement of public address and lighting systems - in some cases without building permits or official inspections.
The Leaches - Bob lives in Albany, Russell in Salem - bought the 17-acre property late in 2001, inheriting some of the nonconforming structures and creating some new ones of their own.
After considering complaints from neighbors who don't like the noise, traffic or bright lights of the speedway, a Lane County hearings official found that the racetrack meets county land-use law in some aspects and violates it in several others. The owners have appealed.
Despite complaints, the Cottage Grove Speedway also has its champions, including Cottage Grove Mayor Gary Williams.
The racetrack "continues to be a major part of our community's economy," Williams said in a recent letter to the county commissioners. "City staff and representatives from the speedway have met and discussed the annexation process. ... The current owners are diligently attempting to address all the compliance issues."
In the meantime, the county must enforce its ordinances, said Land Management Director Jeff Towery. That includes levying fines for violations, which in extreme cases can range up to $1,000 per day.
"We have a complaint-driven system of code enforcement," Towery said. "A complaint can come from a variety of places - citizens, building inspectors who notice problems, other departments, or the county commissioners. We don't go out and patrol, looking for problems."
Once a problem arises, the county sends out a notice requesting voluntary compliance and sets a deadline, he said.
If violators don't respond, they receive a notice of failure to comply.
Continued lack of cooperation leads to fines, liens on the property or even foreclosure.
The county bases fines in part on the history of the problem and the good faith effort of the property owner to resolve it, and the county probably won't levy anywhere near the maximum daily fine on the speedway, Towery said.
The county has asked the Leaches to submit building permit applications for structures that date back to 1982, with no penalty except the payment of normal permit fees and the requirements of regular inspections.
However, for newer bleachers and other construction done since then, the county expects to charge double building permit fees plus $300 compliance fees for each violation, but it probably won't levy daily fines as long as the structures remain unused until a legal settlement is reached, he said.
In addition, under the hearings official's decision, the Leaches may face fines if they use the replacement lighting and sound systems, run more than 40 cars per day on "regular" weekends or 60 daily during holiday periods such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July or Labor Day.
They also may not hold races before May 1 or after the Labor Day weekend, or on more than 28 days each season.
The track probably will violate some of the county's requirements this weekend, Rush acknowledged.
Although the Leaches declined to comment, she said the public address and lighting systems will be in use, although race fans won't be allowed to use unapproved bleachers or other structures.
DETERMINING FINES FOR CODE VIOLATIONS
To determine what fines should be assessed against property owners who violate land-use codes, Lane County uses a seven-part numerical formula.
H-history: 0 = active attempt to resolve; 1 = minor attempts to cooperate; 4 = little or no action to correct the problem.
P-prior violations: 1 = first problem in past two years; 2 = second problem in two years; 4 = third or greater problem in two years.
R-nature of the occurrence: 1 = one-time only; 2 = repeated or continued violation.
C-cause: 1 = accident unavoidable or caused by others; 2 = negligence; 4 = reckless or intentional act.
E-effort to correct: 0 = cooperative; 2 = not cooperative.
A-prior enforcement actions on any property in Lane County: 1 = first incident; 2 = one previous incident in past three years; 3 = more than one previous incident in past three years.
G-seriousness: 1 = minor violation with no immediate health or safety threat; 2 = significant violation with no immediate threat; 3 = substantial violation with immediate threat to health, safety or community welfare.
To determine the amount of the fine - which can be imposed daily - add H + P + R + C + E and multiply by the product of A x G. Multiply that amount by $15 to determine the fine.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE COTTAGE GROVE SPEEDWAY
1956: Racetrack built by Cottage Grove Jaycees and originally known as Riverside Speedway. Changed ownership in 1961, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1989.
November 2001: Purchased by current owners.
April 2002: Lane County asked to declare the speedway a legal use despite its zoning for agriculture, timber and grazing.
July 2002: Denial of request by county planning director.
August 2002: Appeal by owner to county hearings official.
December 2002: Affirmation by hearings official of planning director decision; appeal filed by owners for reconsideration by hearings official.
January 2003: Reconsideration hearing held; public invited to submit opinions through February.
March 2003: Reconsideration decision issued, further defined restriction on operations.
April 2003: Second reconsideration requested by owner; appeal of first reconsideration filed by opponents. Second reconsidered decision issued by hearings official, further refining restrictions.
May 2003: Decision appealed by owners and opponents; hearings official reaffirms second reconsidered decision. County commissioners decline to hear appeal, sending issue directly to state Land Use Board of Appeals.
County compliance officer Don Ward puts up warning stickers at the Cottage Grove Speedway. Speedway: Zoning regulations at heart of long dispute Continued from Page A1
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|Title Annotation:||Lane County officials will be watching weekend races - and tallying violations; General News|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||May 24, 2003|
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