An exclusive ‘club’

AS A FORMER MOTORCYCLE OWNER, I can assure you that you don’t have to be rich to like riding one of these machines. But when you want to ride on your own mile-long motorcycle track, it probably helps to be a multi-millionaire.

   Or maybe not. So far Alan Wilzig, heir to a banking fortune and a Town of Taghkanic resident, has built a track that he can’t yet use because until last week he didn’t have permission from the town to pave the twisting course. The Ducati motorcycles he rides aren’t made for dirt tracks.

   A week ago the town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) decided that he could go ahead and pave because he promised he would use it not as a racetrack, as he originally implied by dubbing his property Wilzig Racing Manor, but instead would operate as a “club or recreation” use under town zoning law. That sounds like a more sedate activity.

   But some of his neighbors, individually or as part of the Granger Group, don’t buy his argument and have asked a state court to continue a temporary restraining order that prevents Mr. Wilzig from paving his dream track. They worry about the noise and other pollution.

   Mr. Wilzig says that the noise will not be out of the ordinary. And now that the town Planning Board has set limits on when he may ride and established requirements for monitoring the sound levels at the edges of his land, why can’t the guy just do what he wants?

   The noise argument is wrapped up in community standards and individual sensitivities as long as the volume remains below the pain threshold. And as for pollution, certain farming activities and other common land uses, like new-home development, may pose greater threats than an asphalt track where a guy and his buddies want to wind out their bikes on warm, dry days. So let’s leave the merits of motorcycle riding versus rural tranquility aside for a moment and look at a much more troubling aspect of this situation: the process.

   Mr. Wilzig began excavating and grading the track before he had a permit from the town. When told he needed a permit for the track, he applied for one, describing the track as an “accessory use” to his home. Don’t laugh. It’s a free country, and people can define a lawn ornament any way they choose. So what if the construction of this one temporarily turned the hilltop into what looked like a mini strip mine.

   The problem with Mr. Wilzig’s legal strategy was that town law defines what types of facilities constitute an accessory use, and a track, especially a racetrack, was not among those uses. As a result, the town Zoning Board of Appeals denied him permission to complete the track. That decision was upheld in state court.

   Undaunted, Mr. Wilzig’s lawyers came up with a new bright idea: Accessory use? Oh, no, no, no… This track is actually for a “club or recreation” use, which is permitted by the law. In other words, by calling the track something else, he sought permission to operate a motorcycle track that the town zoning board already told him was incompatible with local law. Then it got really squirrelly, because the same ZBA that stopped him the first time ratified this absurd notion.

   Let’s see. Suppose Mr. Wilzig were a nuclear physics nut instead of a motorcycle aficionado. Does that mean he can’t build a nuclear reactor as an accessory furnace for his home, but he can build one if he only uses it to heat the spa for himself and his friends?

   The people who drafted the town zoning law more than 20 years ago specifically omitted racetracks of all kinds when they drew up the list of permitted uses. That’s overarching intent of the law as established in this case by the ZBA and state courts. And no matter what he now calls his track, it’s the same course that the ZBA already acknowledged does not belong in town.

   Mr. Wilzig does have recourse. He can seek to change the law so that tracks like his are a permitted use. But until that happens, this inexplicable decision by the ZBA raises serious questions about the ability of the majority of this board to make rational decisions based on the rule of law rather than on semantic nonsense.

 

 

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