By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO April 28, 2006 A proposed racetrack for speed-loving car drivers and racers at Monticello Airport was met with hostility by its Thompson and Forestburgh neighbors but with praise from car racers and some local businessmen at the first public hearing on the proposal.
Presented by Michael Kaplan on Wednesday, operating under the corporate group of Jefferson Partners, LLC, this is Kaplans newest proposal for the airport, following his failed attempt to build a baseball stadium there with retail outlets.
The Drive and Race Club, as it is being called, would take up 168 acres around the airport, including a 3-mile course, clubhouse, maintenance buildings, vehicle storage buildings, driving school, and landing spot for helicopters. The track has a maximum capacity to hold 100 cars each day.
Kaplan is billing the club as an exclusive one which will be limited to 500 members, many of them wealthy.
But opponents said he already has plans to bring in large racing groups such as Rally New York and the International Rally Race.
Among the businessmen in support included Mr. Willys owner Bill Sipos and Leisure Time Spring Water owner Bruce Reynolds, who were both in attendance. Kaplan said he also has the support of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development and the Sullivan County Visitors Association.
As for noise issues that some have brought up, Kaplan said that his Federal Aviation Administration license to fly airplanes would allow more noise at the airport than the cars could make.
But Ann Culligan, who turned out to be one of the most tenacious opponents of the track, said that was irrelevant because the airport has been lightly used for most of its lifetime.
An eagles nest on the property could have potentially caused some problems, but Kaplan assured worried residents that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has been to the site and agreed on a plan with Kaplan for a one-mile-long no-fly zone around where the eagles nest is located.
Village of Monticello resident Eugene Weinstein was asked to speak on the eagles due to his knowledge about their habitat but said the men from the DEC who agreed on the plan were experts. His only concern was that the nearness of the flights could cause the eagles to leave their nests unattended, risking the health of their eggs or young ones.
One resident who lives close to the airport was clearly agitated about the proposal. He questioned the board and Kaplan, to no response, as to what guarantees there were that the track would not be a typical speedway.
Kaplan had stated that the cars raced would not be cars made for racing that violate federal regulations for use on highways. Instead, they would be privately owned Ferraris and Porches owned by wealthy individuals, largely from downstate New York.
The resident, who lives across the street from the proposed track, said that speedways cause so many problems, that you cant live even miles away from them. He attempted to get a response but was told by board attorney Paula Kay that this was not a question-and-answer session.
Joe Nadler of Forestburgh was another one to jump on the issue as to what guarantees there were that the cars driven would not emit more noise than normal cars.
Sipos said that residents should be more positive of the proposal.
We are a tourism-driven community, he stated.
Besides, there is plenty of noise going up and down Route 42 everyday near the airport, he added.
Shirley Blabey, president of the Forestburgh Civic and Taxpayers Group, expressed concern with the potential negative impacts the project could have on Black Brook, the Mongaup River and Lake Joseph. In addition, there is a 3.4-acre pond which is approximately 200 feet away from the proposed clubhouse.
She said that runoff from the construction could negatively impact the local aquifers. She called for an environmental impact statement. Included in that statement should be a list of how the company plans to mitigate stormwater runoff in both its construction phase and its operation, she said.
Culligan and her husband Jim, who live close to the airport, also called for a full environmental impact statement during passionate speeches against the plan.
The Culligans said the project would create one million square feet of blacktop, which in turn would cause massive amounts of stormwater runoff to pollute the local streams and lakes.
Anybody in their right mind would not want a 3-and-a-half-mile racetrack in their backyard, said Ann Culligan.
She presented the board with a petition from local residents against the racetrack.
One of the major thrusts of her argument concerned the impact on local wells from the project. A former construction and demolition debris landfill was closed down by the Town of Thompson and DEC in 1988, due to concerns about the impact of the dump on local water wells and the Village of Monticellos water system which runs in that area. The DEC fined the owners of the landfill as well.
That landfill is located on wetlands at the airport, said Kaplan. He said he did not list that in the environmental assessment form because he was unaware of it until the DEC was called to the property by the Culligans recently. He said that he was assured that his project would not disrupt the landfill, which remains closed.
But the Culligans were irate and heatedly asked, Why should Westchester and New York City rape our beautiful land?
Twice, Board Chairman James Lyttle interrupted and asked Ann to conclude her comments.
Anthony Griffin, a member of the Forestburgh Planning Board, also called for a full environmental review which follows the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act. His board sent a list of concerns to the Town of Thompson Planning Board. He said the specific noise levels should be disclosed by the developers.
Jack Hirschfeld of the Town of Thompson also called for a full environmental impact statement as the only way for the board and the public to know the full details and impacts of the racetrack.
Lyttle closed the public hearing by stating, We will consider all of your comments.