Thurston County Hearing Examiner Sharon Rice has denied a special use permit needed for a controversial expansion of a motocross track near Rainier.
In a ruling Thursday, Rice concluded that the proposed 26-acre facility wouldn’t be allowed in the rural residential zoning district. She also overturned the county’s March decision that the proposal met the terms of the State Environmental Policy Act.
Jeff, Bob and Damian Mahan had asked the county for a special use permit to allow expanded motocross operations on a portion of their 370-acre dairy farm known as Cadillac Ranch, located at 12307 Vail Cut Off Road SE. The family previously developed a track there in 2010, but was limited to four events per year after neighbors complained about the noise.
So the Mahans sought a permit to build a ¾-mile track, a 12,000-square-foot day lodge with a restaurant and 97 parking spaces. Jeff Mahan told The Olympian in July that his family needed more income to keep the farm running.
The Mahans proposed running the track an average of three to four days a week, keeping it open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for practice runs. Events would run from as early as 8 a.m. to as late as 7:30 p.m., and once a month the family proposed a mini-bike event on a Saturday that would end no later than 9:30 p.m. The average event would wrap up by 5:30 p.m.
That was too much for many neighbors. They appealed the environmental approval of the proposal, arguing, among other things, that the residential district wouldn’t allow an off-road vehicle track. Their concerns included noise, neighborhood character, safety, how the track would self-police, traffic, uncertainty about the nature of the project and economic concerns.
“This is very fine, seems to be a great activity for families and businesses and so on, but it’s in the wrong place,” said Susan Mayer, resident and member of the Rainier-Vail Neighborhood Group.
Supporters, including some neighbors, said there is a great demand for an off-road track, that it is a family-friendly sport and that noise is a fact of life in the area, where sounds from logging trucks and Joint Base Lewis-McChord are part of everyday life. They also argued the track would have economic benefits.
In all, the record contains 414 written public comments — 299 opposing the track and 115 supporting it.
Rice found that the athletic facility proposed was improper for the underlying zoning.
“The proposal seeks to: occupy a 26-acre tract; allow an unspecified/unlimited number of people, 97 passenger vehicles (with and without trailers), and an unlimited number of off road vehicles on-site; and to permit up to 40 off road vehicles operating simultaneously for six to ten hours per day up to four weekdays and on one or both weekend days each week, with no restriction on the number of ORV engines operating at the same time,” her ruling says.
It also questioned the findings of a noise study that the county had accepted, saying that evidence shows that the worst-case scenario hasn’t been measured.
Rice noted that the applicants called for a track that would satisfy a county-wide or even regional audience, which is inconsistent with rural area designations.
“We were very glad this was the decision,” Mayer said.