Immediately following an emotionally charged public hearing on Thursday, July 11, the Columbia planning board unanimously voted to deny a site plan application brought by Phil Harker of Andover, Mass., who sought to develop "a racetrack for multi-use recreational vehicles" on Simms Stream Road.
Planning board chairman Scott DeBlois said the members all agreed, "Mr. Harker's idea was good, but his choice of location would not be acceptable," because of issues concerning noise levels and the naturally constrictive nature of Simms Stream Road as well as questions regarding traffic control into and out of Simms Stream Road from Route 3.
During the hearing at the Columbia Town Hall on Thursday evening, Mr. Harker told the board and about 40 members of the public of his intent to develop a 30-acre, triangular parcel of land located about a quarter mile east of Route 3 on Simms Stream Road. He proposed an ATV racetrack that would eventually host sloped-terrain racing events on 20 weekends during the summer months.
Mr. Harker told the assemblage that his plan, "meets or exceeds all state and federal requirements regarding environmental impact."
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Coös County forester Brendan Prusik weighed in with a series of map images, including a topographic map of Simms Stream Road, a Class 6 undeveloped dirt road. The road "cannot be widened on the Simms Stream side and would require blasting of granite cliffs on the south side of the road on a massive scale, Mr. Prusik said. "It's a natural choke-point that would require heavy-duty construction with serious environmental implications to widen."
Mr. Prusik also expressed his wish that Mr. Harker had provided a detailed operational plan and a definitive plan for vegetation development. He noted that the proposed location for the racing facility sits "on the slope of a naturally occurring bowl or ampitheater' that tends to amplify sound to surrounding locations, so that's an issue as well."
Several citizens at the hearing who reside on Fish Pond Road reported that due to that natural noise amplification effect, vehicular noise and even personal conversation from Simms Stream Road can be clearly heard at considerable distance, and they questioned the impact of noise levels generated by multiple ATV racing machines. "You are proposing running these events from dawn til dusk, twenty weekends every summer," said Fish Pond Road resident Helen Dion. "Don't you think this might be offensive to your neighbors, and have you considered how this might affect our property values?"
Bill Schomberg asked Mr. Harker if he had conducted any noise level impact studies concerning his proposal and Harker responded, "No such study has been done."
Mr. DeBlois said Mr. Harker's original proposal "seemed to us to involve a place where local folks could drive their ATVs around a challenging course of sloped terrain. We were somewhat taken by surprise by the eventually presented scope of Mr. Harker's intentions."
The proposal was "perhaps a good idea," said Mr. DeBlois, "but a very bad location."