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Noise Concerns Plague Proposed Motocross Track

By Beacon Staff

A West Valley landowner’s effort to bring a commercial motocross track to the Flathead Valley has caused a stir with some neighbors who say the track would be too noisy for the area.

The track has been in the works for about a year and half, according to landowner Cindy Marvin. It currently provides a place for her sons Tanner, 26, and Cade, 25, to practice racing their dirt bikes for competitions elsewhere in the state.

The 40 acres of land in question – located off West Valley Drive – used to be a working dairy, but it hasn’t had cattle for several years, Marvin said.

There’s no law against building a motocross track on private property for personal use. However, the Marvin boys built the track with the idea that they would bring motocross races to the valley.

“From the beginning that was their plan,” Cindy Marvin said. “They wanted to bring races here.”

It wasn’t until the track became a proposed commercial venture that the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Department received complaints about the track from homeowners in the West Valley Pines subdivision, located roughly half a mile away.

An April 9 letter alleged the track violated zoning in West Valley, “based on the premise that the operation was a commercial endeavor for which the operators engaged in broad promotion and race event planning via an internet social networking site, onsite posting of track rules, and collection of fees,” according to a report from the planning office.

Planning staff met with the Marvins and determined the track was not located in the West Valley Zoning District as implied in the complaint, but rather in the West Valley Overlay District, which is zoned AG-80.

The West Valley Zoning District would not support commercial track, but the more-flexible West Valley Overlay might, the staff report notes. The Marvins would need to obtain a low-impact recreational conditional use permit (CUP) from the Flathead County Board of Adjustment.

Theirs will be one of several applications in front of the adjustment board on Aug. 3.

The application included plans for five races annually and two for this summer, including an already canceled June 19 race and a planned Aug. 21 and 22 event.

As of July 20, county planning staff received 11 letters opposing the CUP and none supporting it. In the letters, West Valley residents expressed concern over noise levels that would accompany a commercial race, as well as the perception that a neighboring motocross track would devalue their property.

There were also concerns about sound frequencies having a negative health impact, increased signage and traffic and the track’s inconsistency with the West Valley neighborhood plan.

The West Valley Pines Homeowners Association hired legal representation from Henning, Keedy & Lee P.L.L.C. Their lawyer contended that a commercial motocross track would adversely affect the quality of life in the area.

In their report, county planning staff recommended that the Board of Adjustment deny the CUP application because the proposed roadways did not meet county zoning standards and could be a hazard.

Staff also found the application’s proposed noise mitigation efforts – starting races behind a building and limiting practice hours to the daytime – lacking, stating, “no professional consultation has been used to deliberately design the track to minimize noise impacts.”

The members of the West Valley Land Use Advisory Committee could not agree whether to recommend approval or denial for the application during their July 27 meeting, instead opting to forward the content of the public meeting to the Board of Adjustment.

While Marvin said she understands the subdivision is concerned about noise, she feels her family has the right to make money off their land. She said she has a problem with the idea that people buy a lot in the middle of an AG-80 zone and expect nothing to ever change.

“If you want to live that way, buy 3,000 acres and put your house in the middle of it,” Marvin said.

“The boys have worked really hard,” Marvin added. “They are willing to bend over backwards to keep sound down.”

She also noted that putting a subdivision in the middle of an AG-80 zone increases traffic and the homeowners bought their houses when the dairy farm was still in full swing with 800 cattle.

For his part, Tanner Marvin said having a track in the Flathead would help local racers cut down on driving time. The closest tracks are in Plains and Niarada, near Hot Springs, Tanner Marvin said.

If the CUP application is denied, the younger Marvin said they would continue to practice on the track for free and apply again next year. He also said his lack of knowledge in the intricacies of county planning probably hindered their chances for a CUP.

Cindy Marvin, who said she “hates controversy,” said this issue has caused more stress than she initially imagined. She also said her family is willing to install berms and other noise mitigation techniques on the track.

“I understand the noise deal; we’ll try everything in the world to get that down,” Cindy Marvin said. “I hope those people would be open-minded.”