On December 14, dozens of South King County residents took time off work to brave the rain and traffic in order to attend a long awaited King County Council meeting to address a proposed expansion of Pacific Raceways in Kent.
The proposed ordinance (#2010-0189), has been slowly making its way through the permit process for several years. Most recently, the council added a “striker” amendment to the ordinance, which replaced the goal of approving a “special district overlay.” The SDO would have essentially thrown out the current use permit the track has operated under for decades, thereby giving the owner free reign to advance his expansion plans, without further regulatory oversight regarding noise, environmental issues, hours of operation, or public input.
After getting numerous letters and complaints from the community surrounding the race track throughout the 2010 racing season, it was decided that an SDO would not be the “appropriate tool” and the striker was added to provide more control by the Council and the Department of Development and Environmental Services. Most everything else remained the same.
The proposed race track legislation was sponsored by Pete Von Reichenbauer and members of the Environment and Transportation Committee in charge of the plan finally gave the community a chance to participate on December 14.
It heard an unequivocal wall of protest.
First on the agenda was race track owner, Jason Fiorito, along with his management team. He was asked by Chairman, Larry Phillips, to sit at the table immediately in front of the council and give a “brief” overview, but it was not timed or given any limits.
Mr. Fiorito used a screen that dropped down from the ceiling behind the Council members and he delivered a very polished Power Point presentation. He gave the history of the track and spoke of his grandfather’s vision for the track’s future.
Fiorito’s presentation showed maps and diagrams of his planned expansion. He highlighted a lowered track oval, buildings, and a concrete wall, that he claimed would “wonderfully” mitigate noise to the surrounding neighborhood. His comments drew laughs from many people in the room. Fiorito’s rambling presentation continued and he mentioned numerous charitable organizations the track has supported over the years, including Children’s Hospital, the Boy Scouts, and the blind.
In summation, Fiorito–who kept mispronouncing Soos Creek as Sus Creek–said, “I promise the noise will be reduced and the environment will be protected.”
However, there were approximately 25 speakers, who did not believe him and spoke vehemently against any expansion beyond the track’s current use permit.
The meeting was attended by many people, who had decades of history living in the path of the sound pollution generated by the race track, which can be heard for miles around. They were frustrated by the arrogance demonstrated by the track’s owner and from dealing with track violations that had gone unchecked by DDES for years, with the most egregious being the 2010 season, in which Fiorito refused to honor most of the rules specified for quiet days and hours of operation. He claimed economic hardship made it impossible for him to do so.
The residents were frustrated about the lack of transparency from the Council and the lack of public notification. It was purely by accident that residents discovered the planned expansion under a special district overlay, which would nullify all the rules. It would throw the community, the Soos Creek riparian ecosystem and endangered salmon–under the proverbial bus.
Each speaker, who stood up in opposition of the expansion had 2 minutes to make their point. Here is a selection of abbreviated comments:
“Complaints filed from many neighborhoods have not resulted in any conditional use permit enforcement by King County,” said John Mitchell. “The CUP itself is evidence of the harmful effect of racing noise on the well-being of those living nearby. How can the King County Council consider enacting an ordinance that would strip the citizens of this minimal noise relief and allow the raceway to operate every day and night of the year–and on additional racetracks? The raceway owner’s statements are no guarantee that there will be less noise. With more scheduled events, it’s reasonable to believe there will be more noise.”
“This is VERY wrong to allow ONE DEVELOPER to override CAO, all because he wants more development on his property,” said Leah Boehm. “This is a terrible precedent for King County, and is unfair to every other resident who obeys the laws that are in place to protect the environment. One landslide is all it will take to decimate Soos Creek Fishery. This proposal allows the cutting of trees on steep slopes which will allow landslides, in a landslide prone area. It allows more wetlands to be filled in, reduces buffers with neighboring properties. There is not one surface storm water pond on over 300 acres.”
“The zoning on the property near Soos Creek is limited to RA-5, rather than the Industrial p-suffix zoning that is on a portion of the race track property,” said environmental consultant, Greg Wingard. “This means that a significant set back from Soos Creek is required well beyond the top of the slope that the ordinance ignores and tries to reduce it to a simple issue of directing water back onto the property. The environmental community is opposed to this ordinance and it should be killed in committee.”
“This ordinance is contrary to everything King County purports to support,” said Karen Meador. “According to the Stream and River Water Quality Index, the section of Soos Creek above the hatchery has shown a decline in water quality, moving from a level of low to moderate concern. The west branch of Soos Creek, which includes a major spawning area, runs through raceway property and flows downstream toward the hatchery. A number of people have informed me they have found tires, batteries, oil and other pollutants in this part of the Creek.”
“The ordinance ignores the threatened species of salmon spawning in the Little Soos Creek on the same Pacific Raceways land that it identifies,” testified Mark Brady. “Every year the salmon return, like the seasons; a natural miracle, big ones, spawning together. The rest of the year the streams and creeks are maternity wards and nurseries for these threatened salmon. An ordinance that ignores salmon, environmental protections, and noise violations, does a great disservice to the citizens of King County.”
“First, Mr. Fiorito’s ‘promise’ to expand with community concerns taken into account: He has not even adhered to the existing CUP, why would Council members think he would start adhering to anything now?” testified Jeff Guddat, “Once this is built, what happens if the annual review is negative? Are you going to shut down the raceway or curtail his operations after Mr. Fiorito has put millions of dollars into the expansion? Trust me, it won’t happen.”
“Mr. Fiorito insists that he cannot continue to operate this facility without major expansion. He is requesting to develop a huge facility on environmentally sensitive property,” said Linda Worden. “His grandiose plan envisions huge development that will cover over a million SF of pervious land without sewer lines in place, noise studies, hours of operation, traffic studies, critical environmental restrictions, without surface water drainage plans or retention ponds. I implore you to do the right thing. Reject this mind-boggling, unethical ordinance.”
“This developer wants to make this expansion sound like it is such a great thing by bringing in money and jobs. The fact is, it would displace services from already existing hotels, restaurants, and retail; and the jobs would mostly be temporary and seasonal,” said Peter Tetlow, chairman of Soos Creek Area Response. “At what point do environmental safeguards and tax payer rights to enjoy their property–get trumped by a business man’s right to make huge profits? If Mr. Fiorito wants to expand his track beyond its capabilities, maybe the county should insist he find a different place to build it, instead of trying to change zoning codes and disrespecting the community.”
“If every household within the impacted area had been notified of this ordinance, today’s opposition would have been much greater than it is,” testified Don Huling. “The council’s lack of transparency and the DDES’ failure to enforce the CUP show a callous disregard for your constituencies. The county will survive without super-sizing Pacific Raceways. You, as council members, have a duty to protect the citizens from further harm. This ordinance infringes on the quality of life and lowers the home values of thousands of voting, tax paying citizens. It should not be passed in any form.”
Opposition to the ordinance was also expressed by the Sierra Club, with its 1,300 members and by the Muckleshoot tribe.
Four people spoke in support of the race track expansion.
In addition to Larry Phillips and Pete Von Reichbauer, council members Larry Gossett and Jane Hague were present, with a brief appearance by Kathy Lambert.
More information on Soos Creek Area Response
Grassroots opposition to Pacific Raceway expansion has increased
Pacific Raceways owner gets blasted at town hall meeting