County gives green light to Pacific Raceways' pilot plan

The King County Council approved a demonstration project for the Kent motorsports venue early last week.  - Reporter file photo
The King County Council approved a demonstration project for the Kent motorsports venue early last week.
— image credit: Reporter file photo

Jason Fiorito is one step closer to seeing his master plan become a reality for Pacific Raceways.

The King County Council approved a demonstration project for the Kent motorsports venue early last week.

"We're ecstatic that the council saw this as a way to give a huge boost to the racing industry in the Pacific Northwest," said Fiorito, racetrack president. "It will absolutely manifest itself in jobs and (provide) positive economic impact."

Little more than six months ago Fiorito was fighting to keep alive the master plan, which he unveiled in 2006.

Fiorito said the plan now has a fighting chance, thanks to the support of County Councilmembers Pete von Reichbauer, who sponsored the legislation, Larry Phillips, Jane Hague and Reagan Dunn.

"(They) took leadership roles in crafting legislation that not only offered the economic impact, but also offered the environmental impact," Fiorito said. "We're very pleased that the King County Council voted for jobs and economic impact. It should really be looked at as a community victory as well. We don't have to choose between jobs and environmental protection ... it does both. They really took a lot of time and deliberation to make sure they're promoting both."

Von Reichbauer explained the project.

"This legislation permits for a more open and transparent process for large-scale developments in King County, such as Pacific Raceways," von Reichbauer said in a statement. "Our hope for Pacific Raceways is to attract new and retain existing large job-producing businesses in our community."

The idea, according to information provided by von Reichbauer's office, is for the demonstration project "to be a mechanism to test and evaluate alternative standards and processes before amending King County policies and regulations."

Without the demonstration project ordinance, the statement said, the county did not have zoning or land use provisions on the books, which allowed staff to process a complex, multi-phase master planned development such as Pacific Raceways.

Von Reichbauer initially introduced the legislation two years ago.

There is much work to be done, Fiorito said.

The legislation marks the next step in a long, difficult journey for track leaders and neighbors.

Given the downturn in the economy and the fact that King County didn't have the zoning in place to let Fiorito move forward, it became nearly impossible to begin work on the plan, which would add a racing industrial park, improve the existing road course and generally upgrade the facility.

The road course, which was built for 1960s and '70s era cars, needs to be updated to meet the higher standards of car clubs and other racing groups. Track officials say it needs to be widened, needs more safety zones and needs better runoff in order to obtain Federal Internacional de Automobile or FIA2 sanctioning. That stamp of approval would attract more high profile events.

A new drag strip for club racers has been permitted and construction should start this year.

In addition, Fiorito would like to make room for an oval racetrack and allow one million square feet of industrial space with room for retail on the property.

Getting there will require a long process, officials said. Just to get through all the county requirements could take close to two years, they forecast.

"The next step is to compile an application, and that's a very involved process," Fiorito said. "Embedded in the legislation is a long list of what needs to be addressed in the master plan application process. It will probably take me quite a few months to put together my detailed application."

Neighbors are concerned about noise and the number of cars Fiorito's plan could bring in if his plans become reality.

Fiorito's consultants plan to help organize a citizens' advisory board.

"This is a time to try to repair some relationships that have been strained through the process," Fiorito said. "I realize that community input is the only way to make this a successful project, not only from supporters but from opponents."

It's not required at this phase of the process, Fiorito said, but he agrees it is needed.

"Including the opponents in the application process would be a nice olive branch and would help rebuild relationships," he said. "Some folks have expressed interest in getting rid of racing altogether in King County. With those folks, we have to just agree to disagree."

Fiorito hopes to sway some opponents.

"For those who think that development is going to come at the expense of more noise and a negative impact to the environment, I believe, given the opportunity to objectively take them through all the issues, I will be able to get some support from the people who have been in opposition over the years."

There have been concerns about a revamped track's environmental impact.

Once the master plan application has been submitted, an environmental impact study will ensue, a process that could take about 18 months to complete.

That study should address any concerns about the site, Fiorito said.

The Fiorito family has owned the facility since it was built in 1960. Jason Fiorito took over operations of the 327-acre site in 2002.

Fiorito has spent countless hours and millions of dollars to operate the business, which has a drag strip, road course, large paved pit area and a shifter kart track. He also put in $2.1 million worth of new grandstands on the south side of the drag strip. The quarter-mile strip is home to bracket races, the National Hot Rod Association's Northwest Nationals and a Division 6 Lucas Oil Series points event.

Fiorito plans to finance the improvements privately. The price tag is an estimated $135 million.

"There's been quite a few investors waiting on the sidelines (who have) watched the outcome of this legislation," Fiorito said. "I'm currently in talks with all sorts of investors, without going into too many details, who are interested in investing in racing in the Pacific Northwest. Because (the legislative) part of the process has been completed, the financing piece has become exponentially more available."

Fiorito says the plan is a win-win situation because of its economic impact. The track generates millions of dollars a year for the local economy.

And now he's ready to move on the master plan.

"It's a huge relief because we finally feel like we have the support for a world-class racetrack from the county," Fiorito said. "For that, we are very excited and very grateful."

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