No decision on expansion, sound
Story by Eli Ruiz
MONTICELLO February 19, 2013 Close to 160 people attended a Town of Thompson Planning Board public hearing last Wednesday stemming from the proposed expansion by the Monticello Motor Club (MMC) and whether the club should be forced to put in place barriers and other sound-reducing measures in the face of neighbors’ protests.
The board held off on any decision regarding the measures and whether the MMC would even have to implement them until a later date.
MMC President Ari Straus presented an ambitious $41-$45 million 10-year expansion plan. Along with major upgrades to the MMC facilities and track, the plan also includes plans for the hosting of several pro racing events every year.
A petition from complainants asking that Thompson force the MMC to take noise abatement measures including sound barriers and modified exhausts garnered close to 130 signatures.
Straus has said that he won’t take such measures unless required to do so by the town, saying that an “opaque wall” would appear “ugly and unacceptable to neighbors who support MMC and haven’t complained about the noise.” Straus also believes that such a measure wouldn’t make “economic sense” as part of the club’s expansion plans. He estimated the cost of the sound barrier might reach up to $1.2 million.
The close to 31⁄2-hour meeting included a presentation by Straus mirroring the one he gave on February 8 in the MMC clubhouse, but the vast majority of Wednesday’s gathering was taken up by the public comments of up to 40 attendees regarding the noise issue.
Siim Hanja is the founder of Bungalow City, Inc. at 106 Rupp Road, a NYS housing cooperative inhabited by about 12 families. The bungalows sit on 60 acres neighboring the MMC and were identified in a sound study commissioned by MMC as “possibly” benefiting from the noise abatement.
Hanja who has lived at Bungalow City since founding it 33 years ago said to the Democrat, “The economy struggles and God bless them [MMC] for finding an idea that works there, but it’s a conflicted situation. They’re being oblivious of the damage that’s being done to the people around them as far as the noise goes.”
A proponent of economic development in the area, Hanja explained, “I’ve been in Sullivan County long enough that when business shows as much life as the MMC does it’s a terrific thing, so we just want to find a way to make that work with them. No one in our group says that MMC should disappear, but we’re asking them to be what we would imagine he [Straus] wants them to be; which is a good neighbor. I absolutely support a guy who can come up here and do something like that, but I’ve got mixed feelings. I want to support them but I’ve been here for 33 years and I used to enjoy my Saturday and Sunday mornings, Monday and Tuesday too because it’s a glorious, beautiful place, but the noise is an issue.”
Focus Media founder and MMC consultant and member Josh Sommers supported the club’s expansion plans, saying, “I will tell you that the MMC is a very special place. The other hat that I wear besides being the immediate past chairman of the Sullivan County Partnership [for Economic Development]… I’m also involved with economic development throughout the seven Hudson Valley counties, and this project is very very special besides being a very special place.”
Sommers touched on past development promises to Sullivan County, noting, “Working in economic development in the Hudson Valley, I’ll tell you that Sullivan County is perceived as: ‘Oh you don’t want to go there, because there’s going to be a million people against your project,’ … This project is something that is very real, that not only will continue to provide jobs and [taxes] to Sullivan County and the residents of Town of Thompson, but it’s going to continue to enhance the prestige of Sullivan County.”
One of the more vocal opponents of the MMC, Anne Culligan, cited the engineering narrative for the MMC plan from June 20, 2012.
“It states this was and remains a private airport site as well. New York State does not know this, neither does the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]. There is no airport there,” exclaimed Culligan, who then questioned the zoning designation of the MMC property, as well as the timing and validity of the sound study.
“My question is why was this sound study done now when they plan to add even more noise?… This sound study was a phony… Anyone expert from AKRF [the firm that conducted the sound study] or any other company should be investigated if they say to me or anyone else near the MMC that we cannot hear the annoying and most-times horrendous noise from five-six hours [a day], six-seven days a week coming from this track.”
Culligan then claimed to have invited every member of the Thompson Planning Board to her property to assess the noise themselves. “Not one of them showed up,” she noted.
Barbara Barone who claimed to be the closest neighbor to MMC, and whose father once owned the former airport that operated on the club’s property stood in full support of the MMC and the plans for expansion. Barone said that her family still lives on Cantrell Road and claimed that at its busiest, the airport made far more noise than the track on race days.
Barone said that her family was “proud of what they [MMC] built.” “We don’t want to live next to an ugly opaque wall that will look like a prison” she added.
Also speaking in support of the MMC’s expansion plans were chairman of the Sullivan County Legislature Scott Samuelson, Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development CEO Alan Scott, Sullivan County Legislator Ira Steingart and Sullivan Partnership Chairman Fred Stabbert III, for whom the organization’s marketing head, Michelle Klugman-Resnick, read a prepared statement.
Steingart noted the club and members’ $279,000 contribution to charities last year and MM’s positive economic impact.
“They do things first class,” Steingart said, and affirmed, “I’m confident that you [MMC] will do your due diligence, will identify the impacts and they’ll be mitigated.”