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Published: Friday, September 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Plans to build motocross track scaled far back

GRANITE FALLS -- Gary Strode and his business partners wanted to build off-road motorcycle tracks where they could host national-level races and also teach tykes to ride.
Instead, Strode said that special restrictions Snohomish County planners announced this week will limit their proposed motocross park near the Mountain Loop Highway to little more than a mom-and-pop operation.
"It's going to be a really nice facility, but it's not even in the same stratosphere of what we had planned when we began," Strode said. "I don't have 20 years to wait, I had to give in at the end."
Neighbors and conservationists, meanwhile, remain opposed to the track in the scenic, forested area. They're vowing to fight it.
County planners on Wednesday released an environmental study more than three years in the making. The county had issued the same document in 2010, but later withdrew it for more study.
The document, called a mitigated determination of nonsignificance, says track development can move ahead, subject to a long list of conditions. Restrictions include regular noise testing by professional sound engineers, specific hours of daily operation and dust control, among other measures.
An indoor facility and permanent concession stands have been eliminated from the project, which includes four outdoor tracks for different skill levels. Plans also call for grandstands, a parking lot and overnight RV parking, as well as the eventual construction of a 25-foot high earthen berm around the property to act as a noise buffer.
The site is between two rock quarries, about six miles east of Granite Falls.
When fully built out in five phases, the complex would cover parts of 75 acres in the middle of a 437-acre property zoned for forestry. A minimum of 500 feet of trees would be left on all sides of the track.
Strode is the co-owner of MXGP of Kirkland, which has been trying to build a motocross facility since 2005. That's when Snohomish County forced him to close down a track that was operating outside Monroe without proper permits. An attempt at starting a new motocross park in Maltby failed because of neighborhood opposition and zoning restrictions.
In 2006, the County Council agreed to open up some commercial forestland for motocross tracks. To actually build them, organizers would have to obtain permits, provide buffers and meet noise standards. A year later, Strode applied to build on the land near Granite Falls.
The nonprofit Mountain Loop Conservancy has opposed the MXGP project for its potential impacts on the area's natural setting, as well as the hiking, bird-watching and other activities that attract people to the area.
"This is the major recreational road in Snohomish County and it would be seriously impacted by this," a member of the group said. "If this project were to go through, you'd be trading one type of recreation for another. And the type of recreation that would come in would be run by a for-profit corporation."
The conservancy believes the county noise measures are inadequate for measuring sound coming from multiple locations at once, as would occur on a twisty racetrack being navigated by numerous motorcycle riders at once.
Strode said the noise studies, required throughout the track development, will cost $10,000 apiece.
"When cars are on the mountain loop highway and the quarries are running, nobody will ever hear the sound of a motorcycle," he said.
The Mountain Loop Conservancy also disagrees with the time limits the county has set on track operation.
Under the county rules, the track can operate for non-race recreational riding from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. People cannot ride past dusk.
Races can only be scheduled Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., daylight permitting.
That schedule would prevent the track from operating weeknight races, Strode said, like the kind that Hannegan Speedway in Bellingham hosts Thursday nights.
About 220 riders and spectators are expected to use the facility on a typical non-race weekend day. Up to 780 people are expected on the busiest race days.
"We still want to have a track no matter what the size and scope is," said Strode, who said he's planning the most family-friendly motocross park in the area. "We really want to have a facility for people to ride."
The county hearing examiner will weigh the merits of an appeal from the Mountain Loop Conservancy or any other parties. In addition the merits of the appeal, the hearing also will determine whether to approve a conditional use permit and a rezone of the property. Construction could only begin after those steps, and after MXGP obtains a separate grading permit.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » Granite FallsEnvironmental IssuesHikingMotorcycle Riding

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