The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH)
Council on track to approve zoning
Residents approve; still environmental concerns
It appears Lorain City Council is ready to change zoning for land that would become a new kart racetrack complex on the city’s east side.
On Jan. 24, Council held a public hearing on a city application to rezone three parcels totaling more than 200 acres in the Cromwell Park area along the Black River.
The land could hold several race courses developed by McCrone Motorsports of Elyria.
Black River Audubon Society’s president asked city leaders to put the brakes on the project to avoid affecting one of Lorain’s best areas of wooded natural habitat.
Council had no official votes during the hearing, but will consider the zoning changes at its next regular meeting Feb. 7.
Generally, they praised the project and its potential to spark growth between Colorado Avenue and the river with a new regional attraction.
Councilwoman-at-Large Mary Springowski said when she was a girl, the land was used as a dump.
Since then, it has become a landfill and Lorain has a unique opportunity to redevelop it with great things for the east side, Springowski said.
Capping the landfill with asphalt will help the environment there, while adding recreational opportunities that will get attention across the Midwest, said Councilman-at-Large Mitch Fallis.
In all business projects, the city leaders may need to consider balance between environmental issues and economic development, Fallis said.
But the project is a solid one for Lorain, he said.
Ward 1 Councilwoman Beth Henley said she has had a few emails with concerns about environmental issues, but dozens of contacts from people supporting the track.
“This property’s been languishing for many, many years, and this is a good opportunity for us to move forward,” Henley said. “It’s a great project, I’d like to see it come to fruition.
“And, I think I can say, that in general, most of the residents of my ward support it.”
The land was zoned to support light industrial work, but the site lends itself to multiple uses, said Ward 6 Councilman Rey Carrion.
“What this site will bring in terms of critical mass and development to the east side, will rival what’s going on, on the waterfront,” Carrion said. “It will create a balance with what’s going on with Rockin’ on the River series, it will support downtown development and it will give the city more of a stronghold in development and it will show the community, not only here, in the area, regionally, statewide, that Lorain is open for business.
“And this is a great project. I think this is progress, and I’m certainly not going to get in the way of progress.”
The city has done some wonderful things recently and Black River Audubon Society does not oppose kart racing, said organization President Rob Swindell.
“However, this project is heartbreaking,” Swindell said. “It would be difficult to pick a worse location in the city.”
Cromwell Park is one of Lorain’s last large green spaces and is an important bird area for migrating birds and nesting great blue herons and double-crested cormorants, he said.
There are at least 43 nesting species living there, Swindell said.
The city has done a wonderful job restoring areas along the Black River, he said.
“It would be nice to work together to preserve that,” Swindell said. “The project has been called a win-win, but I suppose that’s a matter of perspective.
“Cutting down trees and destroying habitats just for fun kind of feels like a loselose to us.”
Kathleen Ditullio, of Oberlin, said she thought city leaders were aware of the “amazing asset” that sits along the Black River.
Ditullio asked if any council members have taken a boat tour of the Black River to see more than 200 nests in the great blue heron rookery, the main attraction of the tours.
The rookery would sit about 800 feet from the new loud motor speedway, she said.
If the herons leave the area, Lorain will lose one of its main natural attractions, she said.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency must approve developing a track on a brownfield, said Tom Brown, executive director of the Lorain Port and Finance Authority.
The herons began nesting along the Black River when two steel mills were active, and the rookery sits on the same side of the river as the steel mills.
McCrone Motorsports is working with Lorain County Metro Parks, an agency that does not focus on harming nature, Brown said.
Lorain’s Engineering Department did not oppose the development, said Drew Crawford, city zoning and planning administrator.
Crawford cited a letter from Kate Golden, city stormwater manager, who noted the surprise that herons began nesting on an industrial site.
Resident Jerry Donovan said he “totally” endorses the project to enhance the east side.
Resident John Wargo asked questions about previous proposals for the site.
Danielle Squire, an environmentalist and Black River Audubon member, emailed a statement opposing the development.
Fallis and Springowski agreed there was nothing from the public hearing that would stop them from voting for redeveloping the site.