Trial to decide ice racing dispute

ESCANABA – Five months from now, a trial will take place on a zoning complaint filed by Barron Farms against Escanaba Township. The dispute revolves around an ice racing track built on land on N.7 Lane.

Barron Farms – a farming operation of partners Robert Barron and Thomas Barron – filed the complaint in Delta County Circuit Court on Jan. 30.

A pretrial conference took place last month to set a date for a two-day trial to be decided by Judge Stephen Davis. The bench trial is scheduled for Sept. 29 and 30.

The case is familiar to the judge who ruled on a similar dispute of the property in January 2012 when he denied a preliminary injunction from the township to halt ice racing operations there.

Ten months later, Davis granted the township’s injunction to stop ice racing on the Barron property.

The township sought the injunction because of zoning and construction issues as well as noise, pollution and traffic concerns for residents across the road.

Robert Barron had built the ice racing track in 2012; township zoning does not allow ice racing. In addition, a site plan and a zoning compliance permit application were not submitted to the township for construction of the track.

During March 2013, when ice racing resumed on the property, the township was going to seek legal action against Barron for violating the local ordinance and court injunction. The matter did not go to court because Barron had not authorized ice racing for a birthday party there.

Barron later petitioned the township to change the zoning on the property from industrial to resource production so racing could resume. The Escanaba Township Planning Commission reviewed his request to change the zoning to allow racing.

The commission decided to not rezone the land. The township board reviewed this decision in October but no action by the board was necessary.

Barron appealed the commission’s decision and submitted more than 300 signatures on a petition presented to the township in November 2013. The item was tabled until the signatures could be verified.

The following month, the township board voted to keep the zoning on the Barron property at industrial.

The current court complaint issued by Barron Farms (which acquired the land in 1999) contends the property has mainly been used for farming since the 1930s.

When the township adopted an ordinance on Sept. 30, 1976, zoning the property as industrial, the land was a strawberry farm, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit states the township’s regulatory actions “in essence, have taken all reasonable uses of the property and deprived the plaintiffs of their property.”

The complaint requests the court to permit the plaintiff “to continue to use the property consistent with a resource production zoning designation.”

In addition, the document states the planning commission and township board’s denials of Robert Barron’s requests to change the zoning were made without merit and also denied the plaintiff equal protection as neighboring landowners had been offered.

The complaint also states the township failed to provide justification in denying the requests, resulting in a legal claim for violation of due process.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143,