Baxter Revs Up Plan For Racetrack At 20-Mile Bend, With OHV Park In ITID

Palm Beach County Commissioner Sara Baxter speaks to a packed house at a town hall meeting held June 21 at the Royal Palm Beach Cultural Center.

Guzzling 15 gallons of nitromethane fuel in less than four seconds, a top-fuel dragster can hit 330-plus miles per hour over a straight-as-a-ruler, flat-at-as-a-board, quarter-mile track.

At a Wednesday, June 21 town hall meeting at the Royal Palm Beach Cultural Center, Palm Beach County Commissioner Sara Baxter told a receptive crowd of more than 250 that she is pushing full speed ahead for such a track and more on a 128-acre site near Southern Blvd./State Road 80 at 20-Mile Bend.

Indian Trail Improvement District Vice President Betty Argue, however, is saying not so fast, because it would mean moving a proposed off-highway vehicle (OHV) park to a residential area of the district and increasing traffic on already-stressed roads.

“I don’t think an OHV park with camping belongs in a residential area,” Argue said Wednesday. “It will attract traffic from the whole southeast Florida area.”

The 200-acre OHV park in the Indian Trails Grove property in the northwest section of the district was a last-minute addition that Baxter negotiated with GL Homes as part of a land swap that allows the builder to construct a 1,000-unit adult community and 277 workforce housing units in the so-called Agricultural Reserve west of Delray Beach. In return, GL agreed to build 1,500 fewer homes and cut business and commercial space by approximately 115,000 square feet on property it owns west of The Acreage. It also agreed to set aside land for and build several drainage-related projects.

“I think it’s something the board needs to look at,” Argue said. “It undermines the very reason we supported the swap in the first place.”

The ITID board was not asked for input on the OHV park, she said, and doubted the track would have much impact on the long-standing problem of people illegally riding all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on the area’s miles of dirt roads.

“If [Baxter] was looking for something beneficial to do, she could have asked GL Homes to build out the 640-acre water storage facility they’ve promised,” Argue said.

“It’s not a benefit to The Acreage whatsoever,” Bob Morgan, president of the Acreage Landowners’ Association, said this week. “It’ll just put additional traffic on roads that ITID has to maintain.”

However, Baxter said that the daily impact on local roads from the OHV park would be minor.

“It won’t add to rush-hour traffic,” she said. “The [additional] traffic will be on Friday nights and on weekends.”

ITID Supervisor Elizabeth Accomando attended Baxter’s town hall meeting and spoke in support of a new racing facility at 20-Mile Bend to replace the shuttered Palm Beach International Raceway (PBIR) on the Beeline Highway, which closed last year after 58 years.

“I was disappointed to see the [PBIR] track go away. We used to go all the time,” said Accomando, who is a drag racing enthusiast.

She called racing “a brotherhood” and said “it would be great” if a new track could be built as a public-private partnership with no impact on taxpayers.

As for an OHV track that could be enjoyed by riders of ATVs, four-wheelers, three- wheelers, dirt bikes, motorcycles and trail bikes, Accomando said that the site near her Santa Rosa Groves home “is not an ideal location.”

“It will create a lot of traffic,” she said. “[But] I’m not going to be one of those not-in-my-backyard people.”

Also attending the June 21 meeting were Loxahatchee Groves Vice Mayor Robert Shorr. Shorr encouraged the racers to stay involved and to “lean on” Sheriff Ric Bradshaw to give up acreage near the PBSO’s shooting range at 20-Mile Bend so the size of the racetrack project can be increased. As is, the planned site is 46 acres smaller than the PBIR facility, also known as Moroso.

Baxter has said that for a state-of-the-art motorsports park to be successful, it would need to have at least two tracks that could be used for various types of racing, including at least a one-eighth mile drag strip and an oval track. A road course, dirt track and garage area should be part of the plan, if possible.

Baxter said this week that Bradshaw has indicated that he has no current plans for the parcel and is open to the idea of it being used for the project.

Meanwhile, West Palm Beach resident Tyler Glock attended the town hall and expressed his frustration with Baxter’s plan, explaining that he had a group of investors ready to put in an OHV park on the 20-Mile Bend site — a project he has been working on for several years.

Glock said that he is a drag racing fan and fully supports the idea of finding a site where a new motorsports park can be built to replace PBIR, but he does not trust GL Homes to properly build an OHV park. He also said he doubts that the 20-Mile Bend property is suitable for a drag strip because of the mucky soil — damp, rich, black earth chock full of organic material.

The muck is fine for the relatively light weights typical of an OHV track, but not for the tremendous weight of concrete and/or asphalt tracks used for drag racing and car racing, Glock explained.

“It’s the difference between building a [family] swimming pool there and putting up a pyramid,” he said. “The two are wildly different things. There’s a huge difference in the land quality required.”

Baxter said she is aware of the issue and believes local farmers may be interested in buying or even helping in the removal of the valuable topsoil. In any case, “the developer will be ultimately responsible for seeing that it’s done,” she said, noting that no tax dollars or tax breaks would be given to the builders. “The land is the tax break.”

If the GL land swap gains final approval from the Palm Beach County Commission early this fall, Baxter hopes the county can be out by October with a request for proposals (RFP) to develop the raceway.

Several members of the town hall crowd suggested that a committee of racers be formed to provide input for development plans, and that Madelyn Marconi of Palm Beach Gardens head the group.

Marconi, who was active in the effort to save PBIR, said she would be happy to help in whatever way she can.

“Things are moving at a pretty quick pace,” said Marconi, whose husband Corey Zaron is a racer. “I’ve already been contacted by very serious investors who are chomping at the bit.”

With the nearest tracks now hours away in Orlando and Bradenton, Marconi said that the National Hot Rod Association — one of the foremost organizations in motorsports — is “very interested in the South Florida market.”

As with Marconi, who grew up around racing, Baxter said that the motorsports park is more than just another county project for her. The commissioner’s husband, Brian, is a dirt track racer, and her three sons — 4, 7 and 13 — all are involved in some form of racing.

“It’s definitely a family sport,” said Baxter, who lives in The Acreage. “If we do this right, this is something that generation after generation will be able to use without fear of it being sold. My heart is definitely in this one.”