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Owners of Vancouver Island racetrack withdraw controversial expansion plan

Public hearing for Saratoga Speedway withdrawn after community backlash
Crash to Pass is a fan favourite at Saratoga Speedway. Douglas Waller photo

The owners of Saratoga Speedway in Black Creek have withdrawn a rezoning application that was not sitting well with some members of the community. Track owners Rob and Lee Leighton had hoped to re-align some of the property boundaries and build 168 RV campsites.

“Unfortunately the process has become too toxic on the community and our family at this time, so the public hearing has been cancelled and the file will be closed,” states a Saratoga Facebook post. Rob Leighton did not respond to requests for an interview.

The Comox Valley Regional District board voted Tuesday, April 12 (after press time) on a staff recommendation to cancel an April 27 public hearing about the campsite application.

Area resident Niels Holbek said the proposed bylaw was unacceptable to those “concerned about this activity.

“It basically gave him (Rob Leighton) free reign to do whatever he wanted on that site,” Holbek said.

Area C director Edwin Grieve said many concerns about the application were addressed by numerous professional environment and engineering reports submitted for the rezoning. However, members of the Saratoga Speedway Concerned Citizens remain concerned about the level of noise during events at Saratoga, and potential toxic runoff into the water system. The group intends to push the CVRD board to complete a Local Area Plan.

The district says the planning process for the Saratoga Beach LAP was paused in 2017 because servicing studies needed to be conducted.

READ: Black Creek group requests due process in Saratoga application

“The track is included in the settlement node,” Holbek said. “We see a more complete community being developed there, rather than expanding a racetrack, because this area seems to be growing. Our sense would be that that might be a place for some of the services that people around here have to go all the way to Courtenay or Campbell River for.”

Grieve said there was considerable background dialogue and a tentative agreement ongoing with Leighton around noise, hours of operation, predictability and other issues that are not addressed through a rezoning application for a campground. He had hoped that throughout the rezoning process — including the public hearing — that a compromise solution could emerge.

“Important to note is that the speedway itself is already a legal, non-conforming use, and as such will continue operations regardless of the outcome,” Grieve said.

“I was looking forward to the public hearing, because I wanted to hear from both sides of the community.

“As the world electrifies, and as things change, racing will change too,” Grieve added.

Saratoga Speedway was constructed in 1968. The Leightons purchased the track from the Hargrave family in 2020. The racing season is fast approaching, with open practices beginning Saturday, April 16.

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