Residents, Racers Speak Up At Town Hall Meeting Ahead Of GL Homes Vote

County Commissioner Sara Baxter

It was all about noise — making it, dampening it and avoiding it — at the Monday, Oct. 16 town hall meeting conducted by Palm Beach County Commissioner Sara Baxter at the Royal Palm Beach Cultural Center.

Some 275 members of the public attended the session held to provide information and rally support for the proposed ATV park in The Acreage and a racetrack complex off State Road 80/Southern Blvd. at 20-Mile Bend.

Baxter said the locations make the “most logical sense” and that she does not believe the facilities would “hinder anyone’s lifestyle.”

The plan is part of a larger rights swap proposal involving 4,872 acres owned by GL Homes northwest of The Acreage and 682 acres of the Hyder West property, also owned by GL, along State Road 7 west of Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

The swap would cut construction on GL’s Indian Trails Grove land by about one-third and avoid as many as 16,000 trips per day on area roads, said GL Homes Vice President Alan Fant, who was on hand to share a slide presentation.

“If the swap goes through, it gives us the best opportunity for this [racetrack at 20-Mile Bend] to happen,” Baxter said.

The crucial Palm Beach County Commission vote is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 24, and those for and against the swap, the ATV park and raceway were urged to come out and make some orderly noise of their own.

Madelyn Marconi, who was active in the failed effort to save the Palm Beach International Raceway, told the numerous racing enthusiasts present that Tuesday’s vote is “very important” in terms of freeing up the 120-acre parcel for a new racetrack complex, and urged those who can to attend the county commission meeting.

Cody Savage, southeast division director of the National Hot Rod Association, read a prepared statement in support of the racetrack plan.

The biggest concern expressed by some two-dozen people coming to the microphones during public comment was the noise they fear will be generated near the Santa Rosa Groves neighborhood in the Indian Trail Improvement District and the Arden community near the proposed raceway.

“Nowhere in the U.S. is an ATV park located within a mile of residential land,” said William Derks, a Santa Rosa Groves resident, who called the proposed 200-acre park next to his neighborhood “a cruel imposition.”

Derks’ wife, Young, said the park would “crush our small community.”

Rob Watson said while he is an ATV owner, he moved to Santa Rosa Groves three years ago for peace and quiet. “I don’t want it in my backyard,” he said.

Several Arden residents said they already can hear gunshots from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Training Center firing range next to the site of the proposed racetrack some two miles away. “A dragster is like a jet engine going off,” said one Arden resident concerned about the noise.

However, not all nearby property owners spoke in opposition to the ATV park.

Jose Vilarino, whose family owns 110 acres along 60th Street North almost directly across from the proposed park, supported the GL homes swap.

“We need to see the bigger picture,” he said. “The GL swap cuts density.”

Vilarino said he grew up riding horses and ATVs in the same area when it was less developed, but increased population has cut into the areas available to equestrians and ATV enthusiasts, and made the roads dangerous.

“There’s a big need for this,” he said. “We support the park. We think it can be a benefit to everyone out there.”

GL’s Fant said that every effort would be made to mitigate noise coming from the park, including an 8-foot berm plus hedges and another 900 to 1,100 feet of passive space between the west side of Santa Rosa Groves and the ATV trails themselves; a limit on the decibels that a vehicle could put out; and a limit on the types of vehicles allowed (ATVs and side-by-sides only, no dirt bikes).

However, many remained unconvinced.

“I do not believe the berm will stop the noise,” Watson said. “I oppose that location.”

Baxter later noted that the last preliminary vote regarding the rights swap passed the county commission 5-2.

“Unless something unusual happens, I think we’re in good shape,” she said regarding the vote.

Baxter, a married mother of two young boys who already enjoy motorsports, said, “Being outdoors with my family is the joy of my life. I can’t think of anything better than supporting that for other families.”

Meanwhile, a Baxter-backed stopgap plan to allow part-time racing on one of the runways at the Glades Airport in Pahokee remains in the hands of Palm Beach County Airports Director Laura Beebe. She is expected to report back to the commissioners in November, Baxter said, adding that she believes a majority of commissioners would support the idea.