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Wednesday, April 07, 2004 - Page updated at 02:32 P.M.
Marysville-Arlington area drives for a NASCAR track
By Emily Heffter
Sunday afternoon at the Buzz Inn Steak House in Everett, NASCAR fans are glued to the race on the big screen.
But they're unanimous about where they'd rather be.
"Racing sitting here is totally different than racing sitting in the stands or up against the fence," said Dennis Johnsen, a postman whose retirement plans include his wife, his camper and a circuit of NASCAR races.
"Once you go, you'll be hooked," agreed George Maddalena of Sultan, whose cap autographed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a souvenir from his last trip to Daytona International Speedway. "TV doesn't do it justice. I'd be buying tickets for every race they have."
The regular crowd at the Buzz Inn's NASCAR Sunday promotion are some of the biggest supporters of a big racetrack in Snohomish County.
If Marysville and Snohomish County get their way, a track for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing will locate in the northern part of the county. The city and the county are pushing a site there as part of a proposal to International Speedway Corp., or ISC, which develops tracks for large NASCAR races and is looking for a site in the Northwest.
The Florida company's decision could come as soon as this summer. If ISC chooses Snohomish County, its next step will be to select a specific site.
Marysville and the Snohomish County Executive's Office and Economic Development Council are working on a proposal to send to ISC that will push some undeveloped land near Arlington and Marysville for the track.
The county won't release the details of its proposal or the exact location officials have in mind but confirm that the site is somewhere amid about 1,200 acres of undeveloped land on both sides of Interstate 5 south of 172nd Street Northeast, just south of Arlington Airport.
The land is not in Marysville, but the city plans to annex it. County Executive Director Paul Roberts said the county would show the same support to other cities, but none has come forward with a suitable location.
The Marysville-Arlington area beat Darrington and Monroe to become the front-running site in part because it has a big chunk of land that is already poised for major development. Besides being more out of the way, proposed locations in Monroe include protected farmland, meaning a bigger land-use battle to develop them.
Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said he prefers the Marysville-Arlington site because it is big enough to suit track developers' needs.
"The community would basically (become) world-famous, and that never hurt anyone," said Arlington real-estate agent David Nelson of Towne or Country Real Estate. "Especially if you're a pro-growth person like I am."
A track in Snohomish County could generate $87 million in annual tourism revenue and $58 million a year in state and local taxes, as well as 160 full-time and more than 2,000 seasonal jobs, according to officials familiar with the ISC talks.
Marysville Mayor Dennis Kendall lights up at talk of a NASCAR track coming to his overflowing bedroom community. The retired marketing-and-sales manager isn't a fan of cars driving "in circles," but he believes it would prove that Marysville is going somewhere.
Kendall took office last winter hoping to market Marysville across the state. The possibility that it might become the site of the Northwest's only big racetrack dropped in his lap.
Arlington officials say they're cooperating but consider the marketing effort to be Marysville's. City Administrator Kristin Banfield said a track would make the area more of a "destination."
"We're pretty excited about the opportunities that it brings," she said.
Not the first time around
But the tribes decided against letting a racetrack locate on their reservation for environmental and other reasons, McCoy and other tribal leaders say.
"We kicked it around," said Les Parks, a tribal councilman who serves on the Tulalips' business committee. "Tribal membership was not excited about it."
Parks said tribal leaders decided against it because it would have required development on the interior of the reservation. To date, Parks said, the tribes have emphasized development on the perimeter of the property and within their Quil Ceda Village business park.
The tribes support a track in the Marysville-Arlington area. It would help their businesses, McCoy said, and the Tulalips' casino, shopping and future amusement park should help attract NASCAR to the area.
"What we're doing in Quil Ceda (Village) has impressed them," McCoy said.
Monroe Mayor Donnetta Walser recognizes the Marysville-Arlington site is more likely, but after paying her own way for a trip to Kansas City, Kan., to check out the track there, she wants it in her city.
"Monroe is a racing city," Walser said. "Auto racing is part of our background, our culture. Citizens here just want it."
Monroe's identity as a racing city is accelerated by Evergreen Speedway, a small track on a leased portion of the Evergreen State Fairgrounds.
His track has been there since 1954, but he finds it ironic that the county is pushing for a big racetrack now, given the fight he had to put up in the 1980s to keep motor sports on the track. At that time, he said, some had proposed to the county that the track be used for horse racing.
The Beadle family also approached the tribes in the early 1980s about developing a track on tribal land near what is now the Tulalip Casino, Beadle said. Like ISC in the mid-1990s, the family met with resistance.
"Everywhere that NASCAR builds a new track, they go into communities with short tracks like this," said Beadle, noting that he has contacted tracks near Fontana, Calif., and other markets where ISC has traveled.
Beadle doesn't believe a bigger track would hurt his business, though he said he would be concerned if big NASCAR races were scheduled at night, when he has most of his racing events.
The broader official support leans away from Monroe.
Even County Councilman Jeff Sax, R-Snohomish, who represents Monroe and took an initial interest in bringing a track to the Monroe area, gave his files to Reardon and has thrown his support behind a track off I-5.
Last year, Darrington proposed a site off Highway 530, but ISC officials considered the site too remote.
"My recommendation was that the Marysville area or Arlington area would be the best site anywhere in the state" because of the I-5 access, said state Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds.
Zoning change pending
The Arlington-Marysville site would take up about half of about 1,200 available acres south of Arlington and north of central Marysville, some of which are awaiting a zoning change that would allow development.
Marysville already had a plan in place to annex the area and develop it for industrial uses. Fallow farmland on the site is overgrown with weeds, and the area is spotted with small subdivisions and commercial buildings. Drainage problems have kept it from being developed in the past, but the city says it is in the process of building regional drainage ponds.
An anti-sprawl group, 1000 Friends of Washington, opposed Marysville urbanizing a 400-acre parcel there recently. The appeal was never resolved because the city stalled the plan while it waited for the County Council to consider the change, which it will do next year.
Kristin Kelly, the Snohomish County field coordinator for 1000 Friends, said the group is concerned about the drainage problems.
Some Arlington and Marysville residents say the track would generate traffic that would overwhelm the roads and fill nearby neighborhoods with noise. From Gail Whittington's deck jutting out of a hillside above two proposed sites, the far-off whir of I-5 is a reminder that the freeway is the only way in or out of her neighborhood.
She and a neighbor, Frank Goulet, said public officials should have asked their opinion before beginning work to attract NASCAR races to the bowl of farmland below their homes.
"They kind of skipped the public-opinion phase of the process," Goulet said.
Roberts said the County Executive's Office will offer an opportunity for public input. Officials haven't asked yet because it's so early in the process, they wouldn't be able to answer residents' questions. The Marysville-Arlington site proposal is only a "conceptual," preliminary proposal, Roberts said.
"All that information is going to be available in time, in fairly short order," he said.
Whittington said she has never been any kind of activist, but she's gathered a list of concerned neighbors and is prepared to learn.
"Many people are very concerned, but they don't really know what to do," she said.
"There's probably no way that you can give an economic stimulus to the area without somebody saying that it has an adverse impact," said Gary Wright, owner-broker of Coldwell Banker in Marysville.
The biggest opposition to the Marysville site is from pilots who use Arlington Airport, just across 172nd Street Northeast from one of the proposed track sites. Recreational pilots fly antique planes, ultralights and other small aircraft at the city airport.
The airport gives Arlington a flying culture that Bruce Angell of the Arlington Airport Coalition said he's not sure would mix well with a racetrack.
"The nature of a venue like NASCAR changes a rural airport," he said.
In addition, federal homeland-security rules could shut down the airport on race days. Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer said there are no hard and fast federal rules about sports venues near airports, but the airport could be a factor in planning the track. Until he sees a proposal, he said, he couldn't comment.
He and his group, made up of pilots and other airport "stakeholders," are encouraging ISC to look elsewhere. Other populated areas have managed to turn the racing giant away, he said. But he acknowledged that the track has so much support, it would be hard to fight.
"The political leaders are just jumping up and down to get NASCAR in Snohomish County, and we're just reminding them of the cost of doing that," he said. "What's the cost for putting Marysville on the map?"
Seattle Times Snohomish County bureau reporter Jane Hodges contributed to this report. Emily Heffter: 425-783-0624 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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