Residents Fight Plan for Pennsylvania Racetrack

by Dan Reynolds

Residents of a tiny riverside community outside of Pittsburgh, Pa., are banding together to fight a proposed Thoroughbred racetrack.

"It's not that we're opposed to horse racing--we just don't feel that this is the place for it," said Cathy Light, a resident of South Versailles Township whose one-acre property would be surrounded by the racetrack grounds and parking lots.

Light, 39, and her husband John, 48, have formed Friends of South Versailles to fight construction of Oak Park racetrack. The facility is proposed for 140 acres next to Coulterville Road, a winding two-lane road that provides the main access to the township.

1935 Inc., the company that plans the track, is owned by five members of the Biros family, one of five applicants for the final Thoroughbred racing license in the state. Public hearings on the applications have not yet been scheduled.

Representatives for the company said a racetrack would bring much-needed jobs to the little community, which sits on a quiet bend of the Youghiogheny River in southeast Allegheny County.

Resident Cookie Carper, 52, agrees. "It will bring jobs for the people," Carper said. "This town needs to move on."

Tom Meinert, a spokesman for 1935 Inc., said the Biros' application has plenty going for it. He said the fact the company is headed by a woman, Christine Biros, means it qualifies as a minority-owned business. He said state officials also have to take into consideration the economic development needs of smaller communities in the western part of the state.

South Versailles has about 365 residents and is less than a square mile. As Thoroughbred racetracks go, the Biros' plans are relatively modest. They envision spending about $15 million to build a one-mile dirt track and a grandstand with room for 1,800 customers and 2,200 parking spaces. The plans call for four nights of racing per week.

But opponents claim Coulterville Road can't handle the traffic a racetrack would bring. They also said the community's sewage system would need to be updated or a new one built to handle the 30,000 gallons of sewage the track is expected to generate each racing day.

1935 Inc. is seeking a zoning change from the township commissioners that would allow construction of the track on land that is now zoned residential. The hearing will be continued Sept. 29.