OSCEOLA — Ahead of a vote by county officials that could greenlight the expansion of the Osceola Dragway, neighbors who oppose the plan put their message on display Thursday.
The Elkhart County Commissioners will vote Monday on a rezoning request from the owners of the drag strip at 56328 Ash Road. The rezoning would allow a $1 million transformation to go ahead, with plans including a test track, additional bleachers and office space.
Terry McMillen is buying the track from longtime owner Ruth Chizum, and hopes to turn it into Hoosier Motorsports and Business Park.
The county Plan Commission approved the rezoning on an 8-1 vote in September, at a packed meeting where supporters and opponents wore green or red shirts to signal their position. The commissioners will take up the plan recommendation at their own meeting.
Proponents launched a letter-writing campaign to let county leaders know their thoughts and about what the dragway means to them and their family.
Meanwhile, opponents rented a digital billboard on the back of a truck, and parked it along Lincolnway East south of the dragway for two hours Thursday.
The sign flashed through messages expressing opposition to the smoke and noise that neighbors fear could come with the expansion. It also questioned how safe the road course would be.
Plans call for a 1.27-mile-long course at the southeast corner of the property. The rezoning request includes a variance to allow an 80-foot setback from residential property, rather than the required 1,000 feet.
To illustrate the distance, Lyle Fisel, who lives north of the track, set up a pair of road cones 80 feet apart on a residential street just south of where the course would go. A smiley face balloon tied to one of them represented the children who would be out playing along Wyndtree Boulevard.
“If you got kids playing out in the back yard, that’s no different from having them play next to an interstate,” said Fisel, who helped organize the billboard display. “I want to see them take this whole project and put it somewhere where it belongs, because this is a residential area.”
Proponents have said the improvements would benefit the community, since it would give law enforcement officers a place to improve their driving skills and amateur racers a safer place to let loose. A 6-foot-tall barrier would be built as a noise and safety buffer, though Fisel questions whether it would be enough.
Both sides have promised a strong showing at the meeting Monday, at 9 a.m. at the county offices on 2nd Street in Goshen.
Commissioner Mike Yoder said he’s received close to 100 letters and emails from the two camps, but noted that he pays more attention to the concerns and reasons for support than the numbers alone.
Commissioner Suzie Weirick said it’s been hard to keep track, but she’s received mostly negative comments.
“Their concern is deeper than ‘not in my back yard,’” she said.