ESCANABA - Ice racing will no longer take place on a track constructed by private developers a year ago in Escanaba Township, according to a court ruling attended by more than two dozen people Friday.
Based on facts and court findings, Delta County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Davis granted a permanent injunction, filed by Escanaba Township, to prevent ice racing on property owned by Robert Barron.
Last fall, brothers Robert Barron and Pat Barron hired an excavator to construct an ice racing track on a portion of 16 acres of land located on the east side of N.7 Lane. Directly across the road are several homes along the Escanaba River.
Township officials attempted to stop the construction process after it began last fall. When the developers continued the project, the township sought a temporary injunction to prevent racing. Quads, motorcycles, and Sprint cars began racing on the track on Jan. 14, sponsored each Saturday by the Wells Lions Club.
During a hearing in circuit court on Jan. 25, Judge Davis denied the township's request for a preliminary injunction to halt the ice racing due to alleged zoning violations and harmful affects on residents. Davis said township officials failed to demonstrate there were any violations and failed to prove there were problems with noise level, fumes or traffic.
The township then filed a civil lawsuit seeking a permanent injunction to stop the ice racing. The lawsuit targeted property owner Robert Barron of Gladstone, Barron Farms, Thomas Barron of Escanaba, and Irene Barron Revocable Living Trust in care of Dan Barron of Gladstone.
The complaint claimed construction of the track violated the township's zoning requirements because the property is not zoned to use for ice racing, a site plan was not submitted, and a zoning compliance permit application was not submitted.
During a court hearing on the injunction last month, Robert Barron testified he considered the race track as a landscape project which doesn't require approval from the township. He also testified he contacted the township's zoning administrator, Al Gareau, saying the official said the ice racing project was "good to go." Barron did get a soil permit from the Delta Conservation District, allowing soil to be moved on the property.
During Friday's bench ruling, Davis ordered the ice racing operations to stop because township approval was never granted to construct the track or use the land for ice racing. In addition, no applications were filed and no fees were paid, he said. Davis also ruled the defendants pay the township any taxable costs.
"What little the township officials may have said to Mr. (Robert) Barron was a thin reed upon which to start this project or to assume that official permission had been given," commented Davis.
Even if township officials had exceeded their authority, their "casual advice" does not override the township's ordinance which lists specific uses allowed on property zoned industrial and commercial, explained Davis. Because ice racing is not specifically named as an authorized land use, the ice racing operation is considered a nuisance, he added.
Davis went on to say, as the plaintiff, the township does not have to show the ice racing is a nuisance. The township only has to show the use of the property as an ice track is not permitted by the township's zoning ordinance. In addition, no land use application was submitted to be approved and no fee payment was paid by the defendants, he said.
Looking back on the issue, Davis said Barron had talked about the proposed ice track during a March 7 meeting at the township hall. At that time, he was considering constructing a track on a pond on property zoned industrial. The track ended up being built on commercial and industrial properties in a location closer to the road and neighboring homes.
When construction of the ice track began on Oct. 11, a violation occurred because the township never authorized the land to be used for ice racing, Davis clarified. Township officials verbally asked Barron to stop the construction and also sent him a written request to halt operations, the judge said.
The defendant did not act in good faith when he never obtained a zoning use permit, did not pay the required fee, and did not stop construction after the township requested him to halt operations; instead, Barron continued the project with an attitude: "If I build it, they won't stop it," said Davis.
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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, firstname.lastname@example.org