A racetrack by any other name: NYST opens in Harpersfield

Opening day at the New York Safety Track: A track day for the members of the Driving Force Club. Photo from NYST's Facebook page.

When is a racetrack not a racetrack? When it's a "motorcycle training facility" -- a phrase used to describe a new 2.1-mile loop of fresh asphalt in the Delaware County woods, on the border of Davenport and Harpersfield, that held its first official event over the weekend. 

The New York Safety Track (NYST) has been in the works since 2011, when track owners purchased the wooded 137-acre property the track sits on. The track's mission statement emphasizes "proper training and respect for the road," but it's clear from the NYST's promotional materials -- and the way riders talk about the track -- that the track is meant to thrill, not just educate, its riders.

Since NYST owners announced their plans for the facility, the local sport motorcycle world has been salivating over the track, which features elevation changes and challenging turns. One rider posted about the track in a forum for Suzuki riders last fall:

...just imagine a longer front straight than Thunderbolt at NJMP with elevation changes! Its going to be wild. I'm just imagining going down the front straight tucked in and going over the crests and into the valleys of these elevation changes and feeling the bike get light then compress. Its going to be crazy. Can't wait.

But not everyone is as thrilled about the opening of the track. A group of neighboring residents who live within earshot of the roar of motorcycle engines is unhappy with track owners, and with the local officials who approved the construction of the track. The Daily Star reports that the group is considering legal action:

...an attorney for neighbors who insist the facility is out of character with the rural area said he’s also beginning something new — an investigation of the possible legal options for his clients.

Neighbors say they fear that the private track — where government speed limits do not apply — will evolve into a racing facility for not only motorcycles but also cars.

The neighbors, who call themselves Friends of Rural Life, maintain that the track owners are planning to hold racing events, despite their repeated assurances to the local community that no racing will be held on the track. Indeed, an upcoming scheduled event at the track -- the Eastern Motor Racing Association's event on June 22 and 23 -- is an auto race.

While the track's neighbors may not want to live next to a motorcycle track -- racing or otherwise -- the towns of Harpersfield and Davenport have no zoning laws to prevent a private landowner from building one. At a packed town meeting in Harpersfield last August, town attorney Kevin Young told a crowd of worried Harpersfield residents that the town planning board could not simply decide not to allow a motorcycle track on the site:

“Like most other towns in the county, Harpersfield does not have zoning,” said Young, who went on to explain site plan review law was developed by New York State to give municipalities the opportunity to regulate changes to a specific property, but not the use of the property.

“A town planning board considering a site plan application can’t deny it because they don’t like the intended use,” said Young. “That is not what the law allows”

In a peculiar small-town twist, the secretary to the Harpersfield Planning Board, whose members voted to approve the site plans, is also the editor of the Mountain Eagle, a weekly paper that has been closely following the unfolding drama over the track. Liz Page's dual roles became an issue last week when the planning board went into executive session to craft a controversial resolution about the track, the Daily Star reports:

[Dev Kernan] and other neighbors said they were disappointed when the Harpersfield Planning Board met in executive session for approximately two hours Wednesday night and emerged with a resolution that allows the track to operate for a year. The arrangement, he said, requires Lubinitsky to provide the board monthly with noise, traffic and attendance data.

Liz Page, the secretary to the board as well as a reporter for the Mountain Eagle newspaper, said she wasn’t sure if she could release details of the board’s decision to a reporter for The Daily Star because the action followed an executive session.

If the local drama unfolding over the track had any effect on the downstate drivers who rolled into Delaware County for the NYST's inaugural weekend, it didn't show. Driving Force Club wrote, on an album of photos of the weekend posted on Facebook:

Driving Force Club was the first club ever to hold a track day at the brand new NYST in upstate NY. Eveyone had a fantastic time and look [sic] forward to going back soon!