Monday, July 09, 2001

Race noise driving residents up wall

Track wants longer hours; neighbors balk

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Decades-old legal wrangling over noise at a southern Kenton County drag strip could limit a popular junior dragster program for Ludlow youths.

        For 28 years, the Thorn Hill Drag Strip has operated under a court order that limits its racing time to six hours a week — from 6 p.m. to midnight on Saturdays during the April 1-Oct. 1 racing season.

        In recent years, Al Childers, the drag strip's owner, has waged an unsuccessful legal battle to begin his weekly races at 4 p.m. instead of 6 p.m.

        Extending his racing time by two hours each Saturday, Mr. Childers says, would enable all his scheduled races to finish, and he wouldn't have to turn away participants in the Ludlow Junior Dragster Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program.

        Because of a crowded racing schedule, the junior dragster program for 8- to 15-year-olds often can't be run because there's no time, Mr. Childers said.

        “The sport has just exploded in the past 10 years,” Mr. Childers said. “We're getting so many race cars, we can't run them all in six hours.”

        Mr. Childers figures he could draw 40 to 50 more junior dragsters a week, as well as an equal number of high school drivers, if he could start racing two hours earlier.

        But opponents argue the noise from the drag strip is intolerable at six hours a week. They say they will fight any attempts to extend it.

        Attorney Stephen Wolnitzek represents John and Ginger West of Alexandria who joined a dozen other Campbell County residents in 1972 in filing suit against the drag strip over excessive noise.

        A year later, the plaintiffs succeeded in getting Sunday racing stopped, as well as restricting Saturday night races to six hours.

        On most Saturday nights between April and October, the Wests “either pray for rain, or they leave home,” their lawyer said.

        “I've been to Mr. West's house, and I've sat on his porch, which is maybe 150 yards from where the dragsters warm up,” Mr. Wolnitzek said. “Literally, just sitting on the porch across a regular table, you can see lips moving, but you can't hear a word the other person's saying.”

        Besides preventing normal conversation, the drag strip's opponents contend, it's often impossible to sleep, or engage in activities outside their homes.

        Eric Deters, the lawyer representing Mr. Childers, said claims of excessive noise are “totally untrue.”

        “I was at Thorn Hill with my wife and daughter (a week ago) Saturday to watch the racing, and we could hear each other just fine,” Mr. Deters said.

        Ludlow Police Chief Tom Collins, who often drag raced at Thorn Hill as a teen, now is one of the chief backers of the Ludlow Junior Dragster DARE program, which draws youths from throughout Kenton County.

        “We've gotten kids to come out (to the drag strip) so they won't race on the highways,” Chief Collins said. “We try to get kids to come in off the street and do things the right way, but now they can't, because Al can't fit them in.”

        In April, Campbell Circuit Judge William Wehr upheld a previous judge's ruling restricting racing at Thorn Hill Drag Strip after plaintiffs in the noise lawsuit complained that Mr. Childers was violat ing the earlier court order by racing past the midnight deadline and failing to have off-duty police present to ensure he complied with the court-ordered racing times.

        Judge Wehr also refused to allow Mr. Childers to increase his racing hours, in part because drag racing represents a nonconforming use under Kenton County zoning law.

        As a result of that ruling, Mr. Deters said he plans to meet with Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission staff this week to explore the feasibility of a new zone.

        “Based upon the judge's last order, I think we need to ask Kenton County to set up a special zoning jurisdiction that would allow drag strips, and get this property rezoned,” Mr. Deters said.


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