The Examiner
It’s become an annual occurrence in Grain Valley for nearly 10 years: noise complaints to the city stemming from the races at Valley Speedway.
Except for some modifications at the 1/3-mile oval dirt track off Old U.S. 40 that opened in 2004, the issue has not moved much past the talking stage. Grain Valley’s noise ordinance remains at 65 decibels at a property line, and while sounds studies have shown it exceeds that level, Valley Speedway continues to host races on most weekends, weather permitting, from March through October.
“It’s a heated topic that both sides are passionate about,” Grain Valley Mayor Mike Todd said.
Since a meeting in May when members of the public shared opinions from all sides, the Board of Aldermen has tabled the issue, though that could change by the end of the summer.
“The Board of Aldermen actually hasn’t met on the race track in a while,” Todd said. “We actually referred it to (the Community Development Committee) to give us a recommendation that will then be forwarded to us.”
That group met July 10 and is scheduled to meet again at 6 p.m. today.
“Hopefully they’ll have a recommendation to the Board of Aldermen, and we’ll go from there,” Todd said.
Valley Speedway owner Dennis Shrout said the issue stems from an ordinance that has what he believes to be an arbitrary number (65 decibels) attached to it.
“The whole problem is the sound ordinance for a special use permit isn’t for a race track,” he said. “You can’t just pull a number out of the air.”
Furthermore, he points out, normal speaking voices create a similar decibel level, and readings taken during non-race times have produced slightly higher levels. A normal activity such as mowing a lawn can also exceed 65 decibels.
Barbara Kountzman, who has lived in Grain Valley since 2005, is part of a group of residents who recently collected more than 200 signatures for a petition sent to the city – a petition for the city to enforce the ordinance as it’s written.
“We can’t get them to tell us why they never enforce it,” said Kountzman, who resides about a mile and half from the track. “I know there’s nights (Shrout) probably can’t meet that. My issue is with the city, because those are the people I elect.”
Shrout has taken steps to mitigate his track’s noise, including required mufflers that produce about a 10-decibel reduction. He’s also installed about 200 feet of signage a couple stories high and placed a barrier of trailers around the track.
“All this was based on suggestions from a sound study from a firm hired by the city,” he said.
“There’s no way 65 decibels is achievable at this race track. If it’s 75 when we’re not racing, how can I make it 65 when we are racing?”
Before Valley Speedway received its conditional use permit in December 2003, the adjacent Thunder Valley Sand Drags had been in use since the late 1980s, and the Valley MX motocross track since the mid-1990s, Shrout said.
“This isn’t something brand new,” he said, referring to noise coming from the area. “This has been going on for 25 years.”
Todd said he remembered when Valley Speedway first opened, it ran just once a week, as it often competed with the track in Warrensburg for the same drivers. It now runs its regular weekly programs on Fridays and Saturdays and some special programs during the week.
Even more than an increase in races, Grain Valley’s population has ballooned from nearly 2,000 in 1990 to about 5,000 in 2000, to about 13,000 now, leading to several more residential areas within possible earshot of the track.
“Between 2000 and 2010, we grew 151 percent,” Todd said.
While Shrout said he believes the complaints originate mainly from a small group of residents who want to see the track shut down, Todd said he has no desire to see Valley Speedway closed.
“I have no idea where the other aldermen stand on it,” Todd said. “We haven’t had much discussion on it. But we have to find a compromise on it.
“Even most of the homeowners that have come and complained have said they don’t want it shut down, they just want to lessen the impact.”
Kountzman said she encountered the issue when she served on the Public Works Committee, which is now the Community Development Committee.
“The ordinance has to be re-written; it has no teeth to it,” she said. “I think they’re trying to find a way to satisfy (Shrout) as a business owner, and the citizens, and I know that won’t be easy.”