Shifting gears

Owosso Speedway in Middlebury Township is shown Monday.

CORUNNA — The Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners Thursday unanimously approved a rezoning request from the owners of Owosso Speedway, allowing the track to host a wider variety of events beyond racing.

Car shows and a drive-in theater are among the offerings owners Ken and Gerry Williams plan to explore at the 40-acre property, 7204 W. M-21. Those activities were previously barred under a consent judgment between track ownership and the county.

The rezoning changes the site from agriculture/rural residential use to general business.

“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 earlier this week. “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 could not occur under the consent judgment, which limits the number of days, and specifically what times, the track may be used.

“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.

The rezoning of the property effectively wipes out the consent judgment, according to Pete Preston of Preston Community Services. Additional uses at the track, such as a drive-in theater, will require a site plan and special use permit approval from the planning commission, which will effectively issue a new regulatory document for governing the site.

Provisions within the consent judgment, however, including noise limits and designated racing hours, will be considered legally non-conforming, according to Preston, allowing racing activities to continue under the agreed-upon stipulations.

A handful of neighboring property owners expressed mixed feelings about the rezoning during this week’s county board committee meetings.

“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. He does support other forms of expansion, however, including drive-in movies, car shows and miniature golf.

Commissioner Marlene Webster, R-District 1, indicated Monday 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 Monday. “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.”

Preston reiterated Monday any new uses at the site will 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.

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