Track opponents continue cycle of appeals, defeats

By: 
Adam Rollins
Staff Writer

Highway B property owners who have struggled for years to hinder the operation of Hickory Ridge Motorsport Park are continuing their string of legal actions, despite a chain of defeats in court.

Since a judge outright rejected opponents’ latest lawsuit in March, the group has appealed, been rejected, and appealed again, hoping to get a new result in a higher court where they lost a key decision three years ago.

The current legal wrangling is over whether the Warren County Commission followed proper procedure prior to relaxing the restrictions on Hickory Ridge’s operating permit, related to the number of events and spectators allowed at the track. St. Charles Circuit Judge Michael Fagras, who is overseeing the case, wrote in March that he found no merit to opponents’ complaints about the county’s decision.

In April, attorneys for the opposition requested a new trial with Fagras. Along with attempting to relitigate several complaints that they said “received short shrift,” they claimed that Warren County Planning and Zoning Administrator Vickie Vohsen failed to provide the commission with an expert report related to the track permit changes. Such a report is mandated by county ordinance. Opponents hoped to convince the judge that he had missed this procedural oversight, and that it should cause the county’s decision to be invalidated.

“A fundamental reason for the report ... is to ensure fair consideration and protection of properties surrounding the site of the proposed (activity),” attorneys wrote.

However, a major stumbling block to that argument is that Vohsen did, in fact, deliver a concise report at the very beginning of the 2019 hearing where track owners George and Dana Heath asked to increase the number of events and spectators allowed at their facilities. The Record has an audio recording of Vohsen reading that report, stating there had been no issues with the operation of the track thus far, and that she believed it had ample room for holding more spectators.

To get around this fact, attorneys for the opponents argued that Vohsen’s statements weren’t sufficient for the “investigation and ... proposed findings” that are required for her to report.

“That testimony failed to address the effect of events. ... (It had) no indication of any investigation of effects on traffic, noise or other pollution, the enjoyment and value of adjoining and neighboring properties,” attorneys wrote.

Attorneys also attempted to make other procedural arguments that the Warren County Commission had stepped out of line with what its own planning and zoning codes require.

Unlike when Fagras ruled in the county’s favor in March, the judge did not deliver a lengthy rebuttal of these arguments. He simply wrote a three sentence order stating that the opponents’ request for a new trial is denied. That order was filed in mid-June.

And so, the group of property owners on Highway B are now taking an appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri, located in St. Louis. This same appeals court in 2018 rejected the track opponents’ original lawsuit, which had attempted to prevent the motorsport facility from ever going into operation.

Hickory Ridge Motorsport Park is now in its third year of hosting mud runs and truck pulls.

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