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Banks moves forward with annexation despite community member concerns

A 30-acre parcel of land coming into the city limits is poised for development

COURTESY PHOTO - Banks Sunset Speedway owner Nikki Gammel is concerned a new development close to her business will eventually shut them down with increased noise complaints.On the one hand, a new development at Banks' northwest edge could bring in hundreds of new residents and help invigorate the local economy.

But at least one resident worries it would shut down the longtime landmark she owns and operates.

The proposed annexation of a 30-acre parcel of land poised for development in Banks drew about 50 concerned people to Banks City Hall Tuesday, Feb. 28, for a planning commission hearing, leaving standing room only. 

Banks Sunset Speedway owner Nikki Gamell opposed the property's annexation and likely development. 

Gamell said if a development goes in next to the 30-year-old race track, she expects the noise complaints the city already receives to increase. "I'm concerned it will only be a matter of time until we get shut down," she said.

Gamell pointed to an example from 15 years ago, 30 miles east, when housing encroached on the longtime Portland International Raceway and neighbors complained of too much noise.

While the Portland Internation Raceway is still running, the Portland Speedway — an old oval dirt track like Gammel's that raced the same type of cars as in Banks — had to shut down in 2001.

A Portland Mercury Article from 2010 followed leaders of the Kenton Neighborhood Association who attended Portland City Council meetings complaining of the noise at the Portland International Raceway, representing fellow residents, most of whom had lived in the area less than six years. The raceway was founded in 1961.

"Babies kept awake at night. Backyard picnics ruined. Closed windows on warm summer nights — no matter the cool breeze blowing outside. And they had a villain: the Portland International Raceway," the article states. 

The solution? "To see if the racetrack can build on some of its current, quieter offerings, like electric car racing or auto swap meets, and invite more neighbors in," one neighborhood committee member suggested in the story.

But Gamell said those solutions wouldn't work for her track because she doesn't know of hardly anyone racing electric cars and the Banks track wouldn't be able to compete with larger events like the Portland Swap Meet at the Portland International Raceway if they were to host auto swap meets. "It's scary because it's our family business."This map shows the annexation area proposed to be brought into the Banks city limits.

Banks City Recorder Angie Lanter said the city receives somewhat regular complaints — usually from new residents who have just moved into town —about noise from the track, where races draw a wide vareity of modified vehicles every Saturday from April through September. Lanter said she explains to the callers that the speedway has special permission from the city for the noise during racing season and refers them to Gamell. 

Gamell said she offers the complainers free tickets to the track so they can see what it's all about and many are satisfied. "Most people get to use to it," she said. 

Most complainants live in the development behind Jim's Thriftway, about 1,000 feet from the speedway, Gamell said. The land up for annexation, however, abuts the race track, not counting an 11-acre section of industrial land that would separate the speedway from the homes. 

Gamell also stressed her family's focus on community involvement — donating and hosting fundraisers for the town's schools and sports teams — and the economic benefit the speedway provides, drawing 1,200 to 1,500 people to town on a normal weekend and 3,000 when there's a bigger event. Drivers from all over Oregon and Washington and as far away as Canada are regulars at the track, she said. 

Some people have also raised concerns about the fact that the land is partially in a floodplain.

Responding to them last week was the applicant's representative, Matt Sprague, who said only a small portion is in a floodplain and no houses would be built below the floodplain elevation. In fact, he said, the floodplain areas will likely host a north-south connector roadway that will eventually connect Cedar Canyon Road and Main Street by looping behind Sunset Park, where the speedway is located. The road is included in the city's long-term transportation system plan. 

Roadways and utilities are allowed in floodplains. 

Sprague said for any work in the floodplain, contractors would bring in fill material to bolster a new roadway. They would also remove the same amount of material from the floodplain so that displaced water would not flow over to other property owners. 

The applicants — Wolverine Financial, Lone Oak Land and Investment Co. and Lancaster Development Corp. — will be working with the city to coordinate with their 2037 Vision Plan. 

Gamell and one other person testified against the annexation, but testimonies from four others were relatively neutral on the topic, according to Lanter. Planning commissioners voted unanimously to approve the annexation and move it forward for the Banks City Council to address at its March 14 meeting, which will include another public hearing.

These hearings address only the issue of whether to bring this parcel into the city limits. They will not address zoning or future development. Those hearings will come later.