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Private Motorsports Group

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

 

The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the City of Maricopa and Private Motorsports Group after a lawsuit by a resident.

Bonita Burks filed suit last year alleging a permit granted to PMG by the City for a private sports car recreation facility called Apex would cause her personal harm. Burks’ home in Rancho El Dorado is 5.2 miles east of the proposed racetrack. The decision was filed Monday.

The three-judge panel agreed with Pinal County Superior Court Judge Robert Olson that Burks did not present any evidence that there would be particular injury to her and therefore had no standing to sue.

“They agreed with us,” Mayor Christian Price said. “How are you being harmed in the middle of Rancho El Dorado?”

The judges also declined to waive the “standing” requirement as requested by Burks’ attorney, Timothy La Sota, who wanted to put the zoning actions of the city council before the judiciary.

“We, too, recognize that zoning is an important issue with potentially widespread impact,” Judge Garye Vazquez wrote for the court. “However, this specific zoning issue is restricted to Maricopa and stems from the transition between Maricopa’s old zoning code and new zoning code.  We, therefore, disagree with Burks that this case presents an issue of statewide importance that is likely to recur.”

The court also ruled the City and PMG are entitled to costs.

Though Maricopa had recently adopted a new zoning code, it granted PMG a permit for Apex Motor Club under the old zoning.

Price said the council was within its legislative rights, which the court affirmed.

“It was new zoning. There has to be a phasing period,” Price said. “With a big project, you don’t add it like that.”

He said the City may make that more clear in the future.

La Sota could not immediately be reached for comment.

Courtesy photo

Oral arguments in a lawsuit against the City of Maricopa are set to be heard by the Arizona Court of Appeals in July.

Bonita Burks sued the City in May 2017 after it granted a conditional-use permit to Apex Motor Club, owned by Private Motorsports Group, for development of land west of Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Course for a private track and clubhouse. Burks’ initial complaint was about the possibility of noise and traffic problems.

The Division 2 appeals court in Tucson will hear from both sides July 11 at 2 p.m. Burks’ attorney, Timothy La Sota, requested the oral arguments. La Sota said his client was fighting to make city officials follow the law.

The court is deciding whether Burks, whose Rancho El Dorado home was five miles from the proposed site, has standing to sue or whether the standing requirement should be waived so the courts can look at the validity of her case against the City.

Last September, Superior Court Judge Robert Carter Olson ruled Burks did not have standing. Attorney Michael Riikola appealed that decision, and La Sota took over Burks’ case five months after the Court of Appeals took it up. La Sota previously represented Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers, a political action committee that had tried to force the city to put the Apex permit on a ballot.

Apex has claimed collusion by the two parties, alleging the legal actions were part of a delaying tactic by owners of Attesa, a planned motorsports facility in Casa Grande. That suspicion led to Apex representatives filing a complaint against MCPT over its political financing.

In the case before the Court of Appeals, the city is represented by Denis Fitzgibbons. Private Motorsports Group is represented by the Coppersmith Brockelman firm and Rose Law Group.

Gary L. Vasquez is the presiding judge.

The Apex Motor Club's plans for a private track in Maricopa are stalled during legal wrangling.

Another lawsuit has been filed against the city regarding the construction of a private motorsports track in Maricopa.

The suit, filed in Pinal County Superior Court July 19 by former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods on behalf of Maricopa resident Bonita Burks, alleges legal missteps by the Maricopa City Council in granting a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to Scottsdale based Private Motorsports Group to construct a private racetrack in Maricopa named Apex Motor Club.

The argument presented in the suit is three-fold.

First, the suit alleges the Maricopa City Council “misinterpreted and misapplied” the city’s zoning codes “resulting in action contrary to law and in excess of their legal authority.”

The suit argues the land in question, a 280-acre plot on the northwest corner of Ralston Road and State Route 238, which is classified under the city’s “old code” as an “Industrial Zone” could not be granted a CUP without first being rezoned for commercial use under the city’s “new code.”

The new code, adopted Dec. 4, 2014, does not contain Industrial Use Permits (IUP), which the suit alleges is necessary to allow for the construction of a racetrack.

The city argues in its analysis that a CUP is “the most compatible zoning application” and is “being reviewed with a level of scrutiny as an IUP.”

Second, the suit alleges an ordinance enacted by city council to speed up the referendum process also violated the law.

City Council enacted the ordinance (17-07) as a result of an Application for Referendum filed by a group called Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers, which is seeking to force a public vote on the decision to grant Private Motorsports Group a CUP.

The ordinance, forces proposed referendums to occur during the “next,” or soonest, general election in an attempt to “make the process more timely and for the efficient administration of City services and elections.”

The lawsuit claims the city “declared an ‘emergency,’ and stated the purported purpose for Ordinance Number 17-07 was to ‘preserve the peace, health and safety of the city of Maricopa.’”

The Application for Referendum was ultimately denied on the basis that the granting of the CUP was “an administrative act, rather than a legislative act and, therefore, not subject to referendum.”

Maricopa Citizens Protecting Tax Payers filed suit against the city in June regarding the application denial.

Finally, the suit filed by Burks alleges the proposed racetrack will “result in, among other things, significantly increased noise, odors, dust, gas, and smoke emanating from the property, all of which uniquely and negatively affect Plantiff’s use and enjoyment of her property.”

Burks’ home is roughly five miles from the proposed site.

The suit also asserts the track will result in “significantly increased traffic resulting in longer drive times, increased fuel consumption, and creates an increased safety risk to Plaintiff who travels in the area on a frequent basis.”

In the past, Apex President Jason Plotke has emphasized that the track would be a “private facility,” closed to the general public, which would see a maximum of “a couple hundred people,” during a full day’s time.

Burks is seeking injunctive relief prohibiting “any further action related to the Conditional Use Permit to PMG… until such time as the court has made a decision on Plaintiff’s claim for declaratory judgement.”

The suit asks the court to reverse the CUP, to void Ordinance 17-07 and for reimbursement of legal costs.

Burks has not yet returned a request for comment.

Despite a letter of opposition from some residents and an argument from attorney Grant Woods, the Maricopa Planning & Zoning Commission recommended a use permit for Apex Motor Club Monday.

Owned by Private Motorsports Group, Apex is planned as a private club where members can try out their luxury sports cars. The property is 280 acres sitting west of Ak-Chin Southern Dunes and north of State Route 238 and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Trains played a role in the request to grant the permit.

The application required a noise study because Apex will have high-performance cars driving fast on a road course within the property. For the noise study, decibel readings were taken at the railroad tracks and, for comparison, at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Complex, where there is open-wheel and other types of racing.

The study found the trains were louder than the racecars would be.

Saying he was speaking on behalf of several business owners in the area, Woods dismissed the acoustics analysis as “a three-page alleged noise study” that could have been completed for $100. But Commissioner Bryon Joyce, an architect, said it was a “very complete report.”

Woods said Apex’s development process was being rushed through without proper planning or consideration of “serious ramifications.” He said city staff members “haven’t done the work.”

City planner Rodolfo Lopez said Apex followed all codes and procedures. Apex Motor Sports President Jason Plotke said the group has never made a secret of its plans in Maricopa and had news stories written about the development last fall.

By code, there had to be notification of Maricopa property owners within 300 feet of the parcel, a site posting, public notice, neighborhood meeting and public hearing. Commissioner Leon Potter said he was concerned Ak-Chin Indian Community, being outside but sandwiched by city limits, might not have been included in the process.

Cameron Carter of Rose Law Group. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Commissioner Bob Marsh brought up the nearby golf course in what has been a relatively quiet area aside from the trains.

“I hope the council will consider Ak-Chin’s input going forward,” he said.

Lopez said Apex has been asked to inform both Ak-Chin and the Gila River Indian Community, which borders the property on the north side.

Cameron Carter of Rose Law Group, representing Private Motorsports Group, estimated the $30 million project will employ 150 people during the three-phase construction and permanently hire another 30 workers as staff. The project plans include a clubhouse, garage condos, maintenance department and track.

Zoning allows operation from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Part of the recommended use permit included a traffic study, as well. Woods argued there could be a large impact on the highway.

Commissioner Jim Irving said he understood the neighbors’ concerns “but people won’t be flooding out there, because it’s private.”

City code also limits the number of any public events Apex might host, Lopez said.

The next development hearing on the project will include a report on drainage.

Lopez said the coincidence of having the golf course and a sky-diving business nearby had created “a unique corridor of activities.” Commission Chairperson Linda Huggins said she looked at it as a “fun area.”

With Commissioner Ted Yocum absent, the commission voted 6-0 to recommend approval of the use permit to city council. Four members of the city council attended Monday’s meeting, and Mayor Christian Price was also in the building.