No camping tonight? Speedway owner sues town

NEW LEBANON–As he stated he would at the April 5 town board meeting, Lebanon Valley Speedway owner Howard Commander has filed suit against town officials, seeking a state Supreme Court determination as to whether the campers parked on his property trigger state requirements for a campground.

The effect of the lawsuit, according to town Zoning Enforcement Officer Stan Koloski, is to stay the town’s efforts to enforce zoning restrictions that the Zoning Board of Appeals believes apply to camping at the racetrack.

Mr. Commander is apparently seeking to have the Town Board exempt him from the requirements for a campground, but at the meeting, acting Town Attorney Sonya Van Bortel  told the board it could change town law but that would have no effect on state requirements that apply to Mr. Commander’s operation.

Mr. Commander applied for a special permit before the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals in March of 2009. But the ZBA Chairman John Dax said the racetrack owner failed to follow through with the requirements and appeared at the Town Board meeting in October to say that he was withdrawing his application and calling it “overnight parking” instead.

Taking issue with Mr. Commander’s description of overnight parking at the track, town resident Joan Phelps told the Town Board, “campers are parked there all summer long.”

Ms. Van Bortel said that the activity at the track meets the definition of a campground the state’s Sanitary Code, Subpart 7-3, (b), which reads in part that a campground is defined as anyplace “where five or more campsites are available for temporary or seasonal overnight occupancy.” The section specifies recreational vehicles as one type of camping shelter.

“Mr. Commander took the step he felt was the only one left to convince the county, the town, the ZBA and specific individuals that he is not operating a campground,” Supervisor Margaret Robertson told The Columbia Paper in an email. “Those charged with judging his case will now have to make that determination based upon their interpretation of the law.”

The supervisor said the delay resulting from the lawsuit would cause the town to lose revenue, citing a concert promoter who had wanted to stage an event at the track but  backed out when he learned that camping would not be allowed.  The promoter stages “heavy metal” performances.

“At least Mr. Commander’s lawsuit will bring resolution to an issue that has long been a thorn in everyone’s side, including the Speedway’s,” Ms. Robertson said. 

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