September 3, 2014

Sympathetic council unable to give green light to York lawn mower races

Phat Bottom Speedway near York was shut down by deputies last Saturday in the latest challenge to mower racing in York County because of complaints about the noise.

Matthew Setzer wants to race his lawnmower again, but it’s up to the adults in charge whether he can.

The 9-year-old is a regular at Phat Bottom Speedway, a track in rural western York County that specializes in racing souped-up lawnmowers. He and his family own their own racing mowers and ride at the track under the team name “Moonshine Bandits.”

But whether they can continue to use them depends on a legal dispute over Phat Bottom’s ability to stay open at its Jim McCarter Road location.

“Mine is a go-cart body style with a mower engine,” Matthew said. If the track isn’t allowed to host races, “we’re just going to have five mowers we’re going to sell.”

Matthew was one of several riders at Phat Bottom last Saturday when York County Sheriff’s deputies shut down the latest mower race because of complaints about the noise.

“They told every rider to stop or they would write them a $500 ticket,” said track owner Brian Saunders.

That was only the latest challenge facing Phat Bottom, which is in the midst of a fight to stay open despite county zoning rules. Saunders, Matthew and other Phat Bottom supporters, many of them in matching T-shirts, spoke out at Tuesday’s York County Council meeting to try to get those rules changed.

Unbeknownst to the track owner at the time, the speedway sits in a “rural development” district where zoning rules don’t permit a race track to operate. The council approved Saunders’ request to rezone the track as an “agricultural conservation” district instead.

But the change doesn’t guarantee the speedway will be able to reopen; it only moves it from an area that doesn’t allow racing to one that potentially could.

Phat Bottom must now go to the Board of Zoning Appeals to get a special exemption for the speedway. Saunders said he’s not sure how long that process will take, because he needs to prepare a site plan for the property to go along with his application.

“You have to go through the whole process,” he said. “The original owner didn’t even have a site plan.”

While the track is now in a kind of legal limbo, Phat Bottom plans to go forward with its next race scheduled for a week from Saturday.

Council members who spoke Tuesday were sympathetic to the speedway, but said they couldn’t immediately do anything about the noise ordinance and that Phat Bottom will have to follow the zoning process.

“We can vote to rezone it, but we can’t permit you to have a racetrack,” said council Chairman Britt Blackwell.

Saunders believes the complaints about the noise have more to do with neighbors who want to shut down the track. He played music over the track’s speakers until midnight after this week’s race was shut down, and shot skeet on the property the next day without receiving any complaints, he said.

“If you put 12 lawnmowers out there, even with mufflers, they’re going to make some noise,” said Saunders. “There’s only so much you can do.”

Matthew Setzer said he was upset about the track’s closure Saturday, and hopes to be back at Phat Bottom soon to finish his race.

“We were probably going to be finished by 8 or 9 o’clock,” the 9-year-old said, “and not a lot of people are going to go to sleep at 9 o’clock on a Saturday.”

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