Noise is an issue that is difficult for towns to respond to. We live in a noisy world. People make noise. When people make a lot of noise and it bothers other people, it’s called a nuisance. Towns can regulate noises that are nuisances, or otherwise disturb the peace and quiet.
In Amenia, loud shooting sounds, presumably made by guns, have disturbed residents throughout the hamlet of Wassaic, some of whom have filed zoning complaints with the town. So far, the town hasn’t acted even though they have a noise ordinance. They are considering what to do.
In Lime Rock, Connecticut, citizens filed complaint in 1959 based on the common law doctrine of nuisance against the Lime Rock Park raceway where noise from cars disturbed the peace and quiet mentioned above. The injunction issued by the court in that case is still in effect. But, the raceway is trying to change it so it can again race on Sundays and the matter is once again in the news.
There are two separate legal proceedings pending in Litchfield County court regarding the Lime Rock Park raceway and noise. One is to modify the 1959 injunction that regulates the park and the other is to challenge town zoning that upholds the injunction.
We had the opportunity to speak with Thomas Morrison, Esq. an attorney who is on the board of Music Mountain. Music Mountain is part of a citizens council of local groups and residents that have filed a motion to intervene in the Lime Rock Park lawsuits.
Mr. Morrison filled us in on the history of the raceway noise issues and the town residents. The injunction entered in court in Litchfield in 1959 prohibited all Sunday racing, limited track hours of operation, limited the number of unmuffled races, prohibited motor cycle racing and restricted camping to certain areas.
He told us that this injunction has remained in effect, although modified slightly over the years. In September, 2015, Skip Barber’s group, Lime Rock Park, filed a motion in Litchfield County court to dramatically modify the injunction because of the claim that not being able to race on Sundays makes the park economically unviable. The motion asked for Sunday racing, more camping, more unmuffled racing and release from other parts of the injunction.
A group formed to oppose the motion called the Lime Rock Citizens Council, which included Music Mountain (an august classical music venue that precedes Lime Rock raceway by many decades), Trinity Church, the Salisbury Association and Lime Rock Cemetery Association as well as private citizens. This group hired a landuse attorney from Shipman and Goodwin in Hartford, CT, who filed a motion to intervene. The park opposed the request to intervene but Judge Moore of Litchfield ruled in May that the Council's intervention in both cases was appropriate.
The second proceeding involves the Salisbury Planning and Zoning Commission in Salisbury who held packed public hearings in September and October of last year about a proposal to adopt the provisions of the 1959 injunction. On Novemenber 16th the town adopted those provisions as section 222.1 of its zoning regulations.
Lime Rock Park appealed the zoning with a second lawsuit before Judge Moore, saying that the new zoning regulations are inconsistent with state law.
The Lime Rock Citizens Council made a motion to stay all proceedings in the first case of Lime Rock Park’s attempt to modify the 1959 injunction until the court decides the appeal from the town zoning department. If the zoning regulations are upheld the other lawsuit will likely become moot. The hearing on the motion to stay the injunction lawsuit took place in June and a written decision is expected before the end of the summer.
If the Council's ‘Motion to Stay’ is granted, Judge Moore will then have to decide the validity of the new Salisbury zoning regulations. If those regulations are upheld, then Lime Rock Park will have to go before the Salisbury Zoning Commission to seek any changes in its permitted activities. Mr. Morrison said that if the zoning regulations are upheld, Lime Rock Park will likely appeal the case all the way to the Connecticut Supreme Court.
Mr. Morrison said that Music Mountain has co-existed peacefully with Lime Rock Park for years and has no desire to put the Park out of business. However, the activities the Park seeks to legitimize via its lawsuit to modify the 1959 injunction would make it impossible for Music Mountain to continue its Sunday afternoon concerts, which are now in their 87th year. Those concerts are also recorded and made available via the internet to listeners all over the world.
Update Aug. 8, 2016