New Jersey’s Atco Raceway, the target of an acquisition by a major auto auction firm with intent to convert it into a sprawling vehicle storage site, will live to see another day as the site of straight-line acceleration contests, following a unanimous rejection last week of its re-zoning plan.
Insurance Auto Auctions (IAA) Corporation, which famously inked a deal with nearby Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown that led to that historic venue’s closure in 2018, first submitted a proposal to the Waterford Township Planning Board and the Pinelands Commissions last June to re-zone and re-purpose the 60-year-old 1/4-mile drag racing facility to serve exclusively as an auction site. During the proceedings, area racers have rallied to challenge the effort, bringing to light the potential environmental impact of storing hundreds of vehicles on the protected Pinelands reserve land on the edge of Wharton State Forest and along the Mullica River. Atco’s owner, Len Capone, has continued to operate the raceway during his bid to sell the facility to IAA, but has rarely spoken to the media.
Along with the application for re-zoning and site plan approval, IAA had also submitted an application to make $1.8 million in renovations, which included demolition of the existing raceway structures.
On Thursday, the Waterford board unanimously rejected the request during a special meeting conducted with no live attendance, but with public participation over the internet.
“Since the conditional use was denied, there was no reason to vote on the preliminary and final site plan,” board secretary Debbie Simone told NJ Advance Media via email on Friday. “There is a 45-day appeal period after the resolution is memorialized. The applicant or anyone has the right to appeal the board’s decision.”
“It’s a great outcome, obviously, but it’s not done and over with yet,” local racer and fan Tom Otto told NJ Advance Media. “I’m sure there is some point when they can appeal it. But we’re happy with the results.”
And so Atco will remain a raceway…at least for now. An appeal of a land-use board decision, if requested, would be heard in state court. Capone, who has not returned repeated requests for comment by Dragzine during the year-long proceedings, clearly desires to sell the raceway, meaning the board’s decision could prove as merely a temporary stay of execution if he seeks other opportunities to sell the property to developers.