GOSHEN — The $1 million transformation of a 60-year-old drag strip into Hoosier Motorsports and Business Park can move ahead after a vote by county officials.
Elkhart County Commissioners voted 2-1 Monday in favor of a zoning reclassification and other changes for the Osceola Dragway, located on Ash Road near C.R. 16. The changes will allow the new owners of the property to refresh the drag strip and add bleachers, a staging area and office and storage space, as well as building a test track at the southeast corner.
The vote followed three hours of comments from planners and supporters as well as from neighbors who say the residential surroundings are a bad fit for an expanded drag strip. The Elkhart County Plan Commission voted 8-1 to recommend the changes in September while county Planning staff endorsed most of the proposal but not the test track.
An exception allowing 80 feet of separation between the road course and residential back yards, where 1,000 feet would normally be required, was a major sticking point for opponents. Many also spoke out against the noise they expect to come with the expansion.
"I bought my house in 2011. I knew the race track was there. So did a lot of people — as it stands. We're not opposed to it, as it stands," said Peggy Petty, who received a notice from the county as someone who lives within 300 feet of the property. "We're not opposed to resurfacing the drag strip. We're not opposed to building concessions and restrooms, and even putting up more bleachers that can seat more people ... (but) rules were set in place for 1,000 feet of building in a residential property line for a reason. To ask for 80 feet from 1,000 is absurd. It's absurd."
Commissioner Suzie Weirick, who voted against the rezoning, expressed her own concerns with the potential for noise in the 80 to 100 decibel range coming from the track.
"The sound of one tuba is one tuba; the sound of 10 tubas is a lot louder," she said.
Roy Roelke, a broker with Cressy Real Estate, later said vehicles on the road course would hit the higher end of the sound range only for brief periods, and would otherwise be braking or going through turns at half-throttle. The design of the track was even revised to add more curves.
He also told the commissioners they wouldn't run the more high-power, high-decibel vehicles on the strip except for a once-a-year exhibition.
Supporters said many of the vehicles used on the strip are street-legal, and that there will be a noise limit enforced for vehicles that use the road course. They said that only one or two vehicles would be on the course at a time.
Planners also insisted that the expansion won't mean expanded hours for racing, though the road course could potentially be used seven days a week.
Additions at the property could eventually amount to $4 million.
Terry McMillen, a competitive drag racer who is buying the Osceola track, spoke about his vision for the renovated property.
"My emphasis behind this whole program is to basically give the community a Class A, showroom type of facility," he said. "We want a place, a showroom, where everybody can come. The kids can come out there, race their cars, have a good time. The adults can go out there and do the same thing, run their cars and just have a lot of fun with it. We want to be neighborly. It's not a one-way street, but we can't really change the makeup or we'll never make the money it needs to just pay for the land."
In addition to the limits placed on cars using the road course, commissioners also heard about parts of the plan meant to increase safety and reduce noise such as a soil mound and tree buffers around the property. The commissioners decided they couldn't include a specific noise limit as a condition of the rezoning because it would be hard to enforce.
Commissioner Mike Yoder said ahead of the vote that safety at the road course was his main concern, and he thought that had been addressed.
"Overall, I like what it does for the community," he said of the plan. "I agree with everybody, I wish this was somewhere else. But it's not, and this is what's in front of us right now, and we have to vote on this. Just saying 'no' doesn't move it somewhere else."