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Judge orders North Okanagan speedway to keep it down, pay damages to seniors housing developer

Motoplex Speedway and Event Park.
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April 27, 2016 - 12:33 PM

SPALLUMCHEEN - The owners of a North Okanagan racetrack have been ordered to pay more than $100,000 in damages and must limit the noise level at future events after getting sued by a housing developer and several local residents.

Last week, Supreme Court Justice Peter Rogers granted an injunction restricting noise at the Motoplex Speedway and Event Park near Spallumcheen, just north of Vernon, which has been holding motor car races since 2000.

The developers of a retirement housing project called Lawrence Heights sued the speedway because of the noise from the race cars, arguing no one would be willing to invest in a home on one of the lots nearest the speedway. Lawrence Heights has already built a number of homes on the property, but is not developing the remaining lots because they consider them unsellable. The speedway is located across Highway 97, roughly 300 meters from Lawrence Heights as the crow flies.

The speedway has permission from the Township of Spallumcheen to operate 18 days a year and is exempt from the municipality’s noise restriction bylaw.

The number of races at the park have declined in recent years, with only two in 2014 and three in 2015. There are no official races scheduled in 2016. Since the park opened, there were two occasions in 2007 and 2008 in which NASCAR brought open-exhaust race cars to the track. These vehicles had no muffler systems installed at all, and were extremely loud, Rogers said after hearing a recording of the 2008 race.

“Mercifully, the playback in court of this event was limited to approximately 45 seconds. The sound was absolutely deafening. It was painful. There was no hope of having any conversation in the courtroom while it was going on. Halfway through this experience my only hope was that it would end soon,” Rogers said.

From 2009 on, all NASCAR vehicles came with some sort of muffler which "did not make them as quiet as your grandfather’s Toyota Camry" but did reduce the noise, Rogers said. Around 2010, the speedway took steps to reduce the volume of noise, but those measures were not shown to have any effect on the sound heard at Lawrence Heights, Rogers said. 

The developers argued for an injunction that would keep the noise to a level that would not be a nuisance to current and future residents of Lawrence Heights. They also sought damages of $6.3 million for delayed development and lost revenues.

“I have no difficulty finding that the advent of noise from racing cars was an unreasonable interference with the individual plaintiffs. The noise of racing engines is the antithesis of the kind of gentle background sounds that residents of a rural subdivision can reasonably expect to hear in their neighbourhood,” Rogers said.

His injunction requires the speedway to limit noise to no more than 80 decibels averaged over a five-minute period. He awarded Lawrence Heights $100,000 in damages, plus another $7,500 to three individual plaintiffs, and $5,000 to a fourth. 

Fred Gilowski of Okanagan Aggregates, the company that owns the speedway, said Wednesday, April 27, he’s happy with the outcome.

“Let’s put it this way, when the plaintiffs sue you for $6.3 million, we did well,” Gilowski says.

He says complying with the injunction won’t inhibit future events at the speedway.

“We’re quite confident it’s not going to impede any of the races,” he says.

While no races were scheduled for the 2016 season due to the court action, Gilowski says they now hope to hold some in July and August.

Gilowski says it’s been a long court battle, which began around 2001 and saw a previous injunction denied in 2010.

He says the track and the housing development began ‘at almost the same time’ back in the late 1990s.

No one from Lawrence Heights was immediately available for comment. The plaintiffs have 30 days to appeal the ruling.

— This story was updated at 1:40 p.m. April 27, 2016 to include comments from Fred Gilowski. 

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