Board rejects appeals to stop construction of racetrack in Ozarks

Thursday, November 17, 2011 | 12:17 p.m. CST

FORSYTH — A controversial proposal to build a racetrack in the scenic Ozarks is one step closer to reality after a board denied five appeals that had been filed to stop the project and gave the developer a break on one of the restrictions that had already been imposed on the track.

The Taney County Board of Adjustment on Wednesday night rejected appeals filed against the Branson Sports Entertainment Complex, which will feature a NASCAR-style track on 800 acres south of Hollister. The 1.25-mile track and an adjacent road course would host a variety of events about 200 days each year, according to developer Russell Cook.

Supporters of the track say it will bring jobs and economic development to the area. Several opponents, including Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, say the track will damage the Ozarks environment and cause too much noise and traffic.

Board members unanimously decided on all five appeals that the planning commission had not made any errors in approving the project.

KY3-TV reported that attorneys for opponents said after the meeting they will go to court to stop the development.

The appeals were filed after the Taney County Planning Commission in July approved a permit for construction of the track.

The appeals contended that the track would hurt property surrounding the development, that the developer has not provided sufficient proof that the project will create economic growth and that Cook violated procedures by doing grading work without a permit.

In February, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources notified Cook that his project violated the Clean Water Act because work had caused sediment to be released into two tributaries of Turkey Creek. After Cook obtained a permit, the DNR notified him work had taken place outside of the approved 75-acre work site, The Springfield News-Leader reported.

Stacey Whitfield, who filed an appeal on behalf of a residential subdivision near the track, told the commission those actions alone should block the project.

"Russell Cook and BSEC have been doing exactly what they want with no regard for anyone else," she said.

Opponents also noted that the project received a score of 24 out of a possible 87 on a policy checklist during the county's approval process because developers failed to sufficiently demonstrate that they could mitigate noise, pollution and traffic concerns.

Documents submitted by Big Cedar Lodge said the project would harm the area's economy because of "damage to the water quality of Taney County's streams and lakes" and that Big Cedar Lodge specifically would be harmed. The track is about 2 miles from the Big Cedar Lodge on Table Rock Lake.

Anthony Espy, an area resident who also filed an appeal, said it would adversely affect the value of his home, which he bought 17 years ago.

"We were here first," he said. "The noise pollution will be forced upon us."

Anthony Gosserand, the developer's attorney, said the project's developer followed all of the county's requirements.

The developer had asked the board of adjustment to eliminate several restrictions that were placed on the project, including methods for determining whether the track is adhering to sound-level restrictions. The board agreed to allow the track to allow races to begin at 9 a.m., rather than the original noon start.

The board also told developers to work more closely with the county to develop a more comprehensive noise-abatement plan and said the issue of required noise monitoring would be revisited after five years.

Project spokesman Nathan Adams said work on the project had stopped in June. But construction at the site may start again once the developers obtain environmental permits from the DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers.

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