County orders track to stop auto races until new permit obtained

Leader Reporter/April 21, 2005
By Tim Ryan

USA International Raceway has been ordered to stop any automotive racing activities at its Town of Wescott racetrack until a new conditional use permit is issued, forcing at least one event to be canceled in the interim.

Raceway officials must first appear for a public hearing by the Westcott Plan Commission on May 3 before the matter can move to the Shawano County Planning, Development and Zoning Committee for another public hearing that is tentatively set for May 18.

Wescott’s recommendation will only be advisory and the county can either accept or reject it in deciding whether to issue a broader conditional use permit.

The county Planning and Development Department last Friday issued the stop order after learning the racetrack had exceeded the property’s conditional use permit.

USA International Raceway is part of Midwest Amusement Park and is owned by the Samanta Roy Institute of Science and Technology.

At issue is a conditional use permit granted in 1991 when the property was owned by Terry Kralovetz and known as Water and Wheels. The conditional use allowed for the operation of an amusement park, go-kart track, bumper boat complex and concession stand, as well as future plans for a water slide, wave tank and water tube slides.

However, the permit also included restrictions that prohibited an auto racetrack and cited a Sept. 17, 1991 letter from former property owner Terry Kralovetz.

That letter sought to dispel some apparent rumors and stated that the property would not be used as a car lot, salvage yard or auto racetrack.

Conditional use permits stay with the property even after the property is sold.

Racetrack officials met Wednesday morning with the Planning, Development and Zoning Committee to try and straighten out the matter.

“We didn’t know at all that autos couldn’t be on the track,” said Kal Gronvall, manager of Midwest Amusement Park. “We were not aware of it. We need to find out how we can solve the problem, how we can get on with things.”

Gronvall said the racetrack has met with resistance from some members of the community despite the tourists and thousands of dollars of revenue that would come into the area due to the racetrack’s events.

“Some people are fighting it,” Gronvall said. “I was really just shocked that now you’re trying to shut us down when we’re trying to do this. We want to work with the community, we’ve always wanted to do that.”

County officials denied they were trying to shut the racetrack down and noted that all other events but the auto racing were still going on.

Race director Scott Paape questioned the timing of the stop order.

“Last year, why wasn’t this brought up?” he asked. “We ran cars. We ran three (automotive) events out there last year. Why is this being brought up now?”

Planning director Tim Reed said the county responds to permit violations based on complaints that come in and that the county was not aware of what was going on at the racetrack last year.

Gronvall and Paape both said they want to do whatever is required to get the matter settled, but also maintained the track was being targeted by someone in the community.

“Somebody in this community – I’ve heard it from many … people in the community – is trying to shut this place down,” Paape said. “Somebody is going through great extremes to see where we overlooked. I think we’re getting nit-picked here. This should have been brought up last year.”

But committee member Bob Krause said Midwest Amusement Park was responsible for knowing what conditions were attached to the property it purchased.

“You’re not a small organization,” Krause said. “You know the zoning codes. I have some sympathy for a farmer who’s under the cows 24 hours a day and puts up a non-conforming building or some manure storage or whatever. I can have some sympathy for him. I can’t have any sympathy for your organization because you know better.”

Reed noted that Gronvall had approached the planning department before proceeding with many other improvements at the racetrack and had checked on whether those plans were allowable.

Gronvall said he was never made aware of the prohibition on auto racing.

“You should have made yourself aware of it,” Krause said. “You bought the property, the (conditional use permits) go with the property. Don’t come here and complain to us that you’re being picked on when you had the opportunity to investigate the property.”

Gronvall responded by hinting at the controversy that has occasionally surrounded the Samanta Roy group during its three decades in the Shawano area.

“Everybody knows the 30 years of history here,” he said. “I’m not going to start digging it up.”

Discussion instead turned to resolving the conditional use issue, which was complicated by the timelines required for notice of public hearings, as well as the ongoing consideration by the City of Shawano on a request to annex the racetrack property.

County corporation counsel Jeff Kuglitsch said the county would have to proceed regardless of the city’s deliberations because the property is currently in county jurisdiction.

Racetrack officials were also encouraged to specify other planned activities at the racetrack in their request for a new permit to make sure everything on tap in the future would be covered.

That could include items that are currently in a gray area such as motorcycles and go-karts with more powerful engines.

“This is your opportunity to list everything,” Reed said.

“I just want to be very clear about what we have to do because I don’t want to be here again,” Paape said.

He added that the racetrack is gearing up for the North American Can Am Championship Cycle Race to be held at the racetrack June 17 and June 18.

“Everybody in this room knows what’s coming to town this year,” Paape said. “I don’t need a red flag when I’ve got 20,000 people showing up.”

However, automotive time trials that had been scheduled for May 8 at the racetrack would have to be canceled, he said, and a different type of venue brought in.

Paape also offered his apologies to the committee for the confusion over the conditional use permit.

“I apologize,” he said. “We’ve overlooked a few things, too. This is new to us, the first time in the racing industry. We see a market for it. And I’m sure we overlooked some other things, too. Help us, we’ll get through it.”

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