Couple ordered to close private track

Published 9:34am Thursday, January 5, 2012

AUSTIN — An Austin couple has been court ordered to discontinue operating a private dirt motocross track on their property in Lansing Township.

Mower County District Judge Fred Wellmann issued the ruling Dec. 22, nearly two months after track owners Jay and Shelly Kohnke appeared in court to contest the case.

The dispute began in April 2010, when the township notified the Kohnkes they would need a conditional use permit to continue using their land, at 27637 550th Ave. in Lansing Township, as a racetrack because it is zoned as an agricultural district. Racetracks are listed as one of the conditional uses of an agricultural zone in the township.

However, the Kohnkes claim the track is simply a practice track used by their son, who is a motocross racer, and should not be deemed a “racetrack” or require a conditional use permit.

“We have always stood the ground that it’s not a racetrack,” Shelly said. “We have no admission fees, we have no bleachers, we hand out no trophies. It’s a track; we’re not at all denying that. But it’s not a racetrack.”

Wellmann’s ruling states the Kohnkes must obtain a conditional use permit to continue using the track since the property is not being used for a single family residence or agricultural purposes as defined by the zoning district.

“Conditional uses in an agricultural district that require approval from the Lansing Township Board include racetracks … ATV and motorbike off-road courses, or other similar activities,” the court ruling states.

Lawyer Dan Donnelly, representing the Kohnkes, declined to comment on the ruling in the case. In September, he indicated a ruling against the Kohnkes could be a slippery slope.

“It becomes a slippery slope for anyone operating a motorized vehicle on any path in Lansing Township,” Donnelly said in September. “There are other people who practice and who drive what would be motocross bikes or ATVs on their own private property out in Lansing Township and there’s no attempt here to regulate their use.”

Shelly said in September that she and her husband would appeal the decision if Wellmann ruled against them, but now she’s not sure what they will do. She was surprised by the decision and said she’s not sure if her family should keep investing money into the dispute. In the meantime, her son is driving three hours to an indoor motocross track in Wisconsin to practice.

“We’re going to have to figure out something for him because it is what he does and he does need somewhere to ride,” she said. “If that means we have to go to another township possibly, I don’t know right now.”

Lansing Township’s lawyer, Bob Alsop, was unavailable for comment.