Motorsports park sought in North Branch Township
By Jon Tatting
Jed Copham is looking to offer some safe entertainment for car, go-cart and motorcycle enthusiasts as he and his Forest Lake-based firm are preparing to propose an amateur and competitive motor sports facility in North Branch Township.
Copham, CEO, and Scott Quick, vice president/general manager, of JD Investments went public for the first time March 2 when they presented the plan before the North Branch Town Board and township residents — including landowner Glenn Johnson whose selling 752 acres to Copham for the project, proposed between Zodiac and Potomac streets — just to the south and in eyeshot of County Road 5.
[editors note: GPS CO-Ords: N45 29.738 W93 5.647]
Under the plan, North Star Motorsports Park (the facility’s working title) would, in part, offer patrons a 3.3-mile paved road course with a potential for club memberships; go-cart and other rentals; educational opportunities on different driving techniques concerning personal vehicles or motorcycles; car shows accompanied with cruises for local car clubs; and amateur sanctioned events from time to time, Copham said.
“The scope of this facility and who it can cater to is amazing,” Copham told the NEWS before the town board meeting. “I want to develop a place where stories are made, where families and fathers and sons can bond.”
“We’re both passionate about this. People don’t have a place to race. It’s a great fit for the community and economy,” added Quick, stressing the facility’s educational aspect that would accommodate less experienced patrons with classroom and mobility instruction.
People will likely see everyday street cars as Dodge Neons, to sportier cars as Dodge Chargers, Vipers and Corvettes, Copham said.
Copham also noted he has a contact with Spec Racer Fords, “a go-cart on steroids” with a 110 horsepower engine, which could be introduced to the facility.
Nevertheless, “cars must be road worthy,” Copham added, noting racing clubs could also use the complex as a training facility — “all in a safe and controlled environment.”
Meanwhile, Copham and Quick addressed concerns from town residents who inquired about such issues as zoning requirements, noise, and traffic and environmental impacts.
“This property tips no environmental review triggers,” Copham said. He noted he has already spent a day meeting with environmental quality officials in St. Paul who had no problems with the proposed project.
Copham further emphasized the project would not involve a drag strip, a feature that concerned some residents regarding the noise factor. Noise from the project will be below Minnesota Pollution Control Agency standards, Copham assured nearby residents through an interview with the NEWS.
The motorsports facility, which would be open daily from spring through fall, would draw, on average, no more than 500 people during weekdays and below 1,000 people on weekends, said Copham, referring to inflated estimates.
So in light of concerns over increased traffic in North Branch Township, “we’re not talking about a large volume of people,” Copham and Quick pointed out. They aim to draw amateur enthusiasts from the local and metro areas who desire to use their cars other than an exclusive mode of transportation.
“Day in and day out, people won’t see a noticeable impact,” said Quick, noting patrons will not “plug” up roads.
In addition, Copham plans to build the facility in a fenced-in environment, which would be surrounded by a buffer zone accompanied by earth berms, trees and shrubs.
Copham also noted plans to give back to the township by offering to tar a mile of Potomac Road, a $130,000 value, he said, adding he would further consider implementing a ball park in the facility’s buffer zone.
“We want to be a part of this community. This could become a proud destination,” said Copham.
Isanti County Zoning Administrator Tim Anderson last week confirmed he and County Coordinator Jerry Tvedt met with Copham and Quick for a preliminary chat on the project a week prior to the township board meeting.
Anderson noted that for the county to approve the project, the planning commission would have to consider recommending an amendment to the zoning ordinance to allow for a conditional use permit.
Further, the property would have to be rezoned from ag land to another classification for a site specific spot, one that would be more conducive to auto racing, Anderson said, estimating a likely direction.
As of now, the county doesn’t allow a permit for a motorsports facility in an ag district, he added.
Last January, JD Investments abandoned its Pine Run Motorsports Park, a 530-acre concept that was proposed north of Henriette in Pine County.
The decision was made after a year of detailed work and an extensive environmental assessment that began in January 2005, when JD Investments announced the project to the local community, according to the firm’s website.
Issues relating to soil corrections, a wetland delineation and other factors led the developer to find a new site for the project rather than pursue an environmental impact statement as required by the Pine County Board of Commissioners in October 2005, the website continued.
The Pine Run site was proposed on a sod farm, which raised land use issues. Sod farms in the metro area have been converted to useable land uses, but regulatory agencies were hesitant to approve a motorsport facility use at the Henriette site, according to the website.
The Pine Run plans also called for a quarter-mile drag strip — again, a feature that is not included in the current scope in North Branch Township.
“The year-long exercise in Pine County produced overwhelming support from residents and the business community in both Pine and Kanabec counties,” said Quick via the website. “We’re especially grateful to all our friends and supporters in Pine County who welcomed our development and saw it as a good business opportunity for the area.”