MIDDLEBURY TWP. — Saturday’s races at Owosso Speedway were canceled due to inclement weather, and for track owners Ken and Gerry Williams, that means lost revenue.
A consent judgment between Shiawassee County and track ownership limits the number of days, and specifically what times, the track may be used. In an effort to make the business less weather dependent, the Williamses are seeking a rezoning of the 40-acre property at 7204 W. M-21 to B-2 general business, allowing the track to hold a wider variety of events at the site, ranging from car shows to drive-in movies.
The rezoning request was unanimously advanced by the county’s Economic and Physical Development Committee Monday. Commissioners will revisit the request during Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, with final approval as early as Thursday. Both meetings are at 5 p.m. inside the Surbeck Building.
The rezoning request was unanimously approved by the county planning commission May 26.
“We’re trying to be the best neighbors we can and run that business as profitable and as healthy as we can for the community,” Ken Williams said during Monday’s meeting. “We have found that right now there’s about 15 days a year we can use (the track for racing). Last weekend we got weathered out and that’s exactly what our problem is … We need to get that business up to 25 (events) per year.”
Williams said the idea is not to necessarily increase the number of races at the track but instead host a wider variety of events at the site. Car shows and drive-in movies have been discussed as potential options — events that cannot occur under the existing consent judgment between track ownership and the county.
“My passion is with the people in the community and growing this into something more than just racing,” Pat Williams, Ken’s wife, said. “There are a lot of people who are looking for something fun to do on a Saturday night or even on a Friday night and there just are not a lot of opportunities and that’s where we would like to grow.
“Without rezoning into an outdoor entertainment facility, we find it extremely difficult to move into some areas that we feel would be good.”
The consent judgment, reached in 2003 and amended in 2018, allows racing any two days of the week, from noon to midnight. Other types of vehicle racing, except snowmobiles, are allowed, and more than one car is allowed on the track for practice.
A rezoning of the property would effectively make the consent judgment null and void, according to Pete Preston of Preston Community Services. Additional uses at the track, such as a drive-in theater, would require site plan and special use permit approval from the planning commission, which would effectively issue a new regulatory document for governing the site.
Provisions within the existing consent judgment, including noise limits and designated racing hours, would be considered legally non-conforming, Preston continued, allowing racing activities to continue under the agreed-upon stipulations.
A handful of neighboring property owners expressed mixed feelings about the potential rezoning during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting.
“I don’t want to see the business go away by any means,” said Tim Murphy, a neighboring property owner for 27 years. “I want to see the business thrive and expand if necessary so they can make ends meet, but my concern as a property owner and a neighbor to the track is with the expansion of the business, as a neighbor what will I have to endure to live there and enjoy my quality of life?”
Murphy admitted he’s become accustomed to the current racing schedule, though he’s opposed to expanding racing any further. Other forms of expansion — drive-in movies, car shows, miniature golf — he said he’d likely support.
Harry Whitehead, who lives about a mile north of the track, expressed concerns over whether the track could meet the B-2 zoning regulations. In particular, he doubted whether the facility would have the required parking for B-2 use.
“If they can do it within the rules, I’m all for it,” he said.
Owosso resident Myrtle Zelensky spoke in support of the rezoning, citing the family-friendly atmosphere the track provides.
“I have taken my children, and now I take grandchildren and great-grandchildren out to that race track and really appreciate that it is a family function,” she said. “I think it’s very important that we keep this open. It’s in a good location and it’s community-oriented.”
Commissioner Marlene Webster, R-District 1, said she’s had numerous conversations with people for and against the rezoning. While she understands neighboring residents’ concerns, she believes the Williamses have worked very hard to be a good neighbor.
“I fully support the Williamses efforts to expand their business and understand that racing is a little on the decline,” Webster said. “In order for this property to be a really viable business to Shiawassee County … something needs to change so that great piece of property that they’ve put so much into could be used more effectively.”
Commissioner Gregory Brodeur, R-District 2, and Webster both asked for clarification regarding next steps if the rezoning were to be approved.
Preston reiterated that any new uses at the site would be subject to approval by the planning commission.
“You will not see a flea market or a drive-in theater next week. It will have to go through the process,” he said.