A Minnesota developer is proposing a new 500-acre “driving country club” on either side of the South Fork of the Kinnickinnic River, a trout stream tributary of the St. Croix. The “River Falls Autobahn” project would include an approximately five-mile track for car enthusiasts to drive specialized vehicles at high speeds.
Opposition is already rising among neighbors, including at a heated meeting last week hosted by a neighboring church. Developer Neal Krzyzaniak told the audience at the Unitarian Universalist Society of River Falls that the proposal is still in its early stages.
“This project has not gone through any city approvals at this point, we’ve had multiple meetings with the city, multiple meetings with the DNR, we’ve had meetings with the county, to discuss all of the sensitive issues a project like this would bring,” Krzyzaniak said.
The main driving track would run within 250 feet of the South Fork of the Kinnickinnic, a branch of the popular trout river which has been called the “jewel” of Wisconsin’s trout streams. While the main branch is said to have the highest numbers of brown trout of any river in the Midwest and is designated an “Outstanding Resource Water,” the South Fork is known for its brook trout, a native species, which also naturally sustains its population there.
“We do not affect the Kinni River, we are trying to figure out what we can do to preserve the Kinni River and do some things, such as restoring some of the banks that have been washed away,” Krzyzaniak said.
Between the proposed track and the river is state land that’s part of the Kinnickinnic River Fishery Area. The 318 acres provides public access to about two miles of the river. The Department of Natural Resources, with help from volunteers with the local chapters of Trout Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, has done extensive work on the South Fork in recent years to improve habitat for spawning brook trout.
The track is also less than a mile from densely populated residential areas in River Falls, including the University of Wisconsin campus.
The project could have significant impacts, from noise to visual blight to increased traffic around the site. Because the roads would be private, no speed limits would be in effect, allowing drivers to push high-performance cars to their maximum speeds if they wish. It will next be discussed at an August 22 meeting the developer pledged to host.
Krzyzaniak’s company has already signed purchase agreements — contingent on project approvals — with two property-owners for the land, which is currently forest, wetlands, and agricultural fields. A key part of the plan is to have the city of River Falls annex the property from the neighboring town to connect to city sewer and water and other benefits.
The meeting last week, which was streamed on Zoom and uploaded to YouTube, was initially intended as a small gathering for neighboring landowners, who Krzyzaniak said he wanted to ask if they also wished to sell their property to the enterprise. But a larger crowd of neighbors and community members arrived, and asked questions for nearly an hour.
While opposition was unanimous among the speakers, their concerns ranged from the noise pollution from high-powered engines operating at high speeds, to impacts to several wetlands on the site, and the eight-foot fences and armed guards who would patrol the site to prevent theft of expensive vehicles stored there.
One attendee suggested Krzyzaniak work to build the project in his own neighborhood in Lakeville, Minnesota. Another thought it should be in the western suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul, where most of the performance car enthusiasts reside.
The proposal is Krzyzaniak’s second try at opening such a site. He proposed an almost identical project in Faribault, Minnesota three years ago. Local opposition was intense, and the project ultimately failed. Krzyzaniak said the COVID-19 pandemic was to blame.
“If it had not been for COVID the project would have been built, and I would not be here tonight,” he said.
According to documents provided by opponents in Faribault, Krzyzaniak withdrew the project on Nov. 17, 2019, promising to return with a revised proposal. The COVID-19 pandemic began seriously affecting Minnesota in March 2020.
During review of the Faribault proposal, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said it had “significant concerns” about noise pollution from the cars, including that the developer and the county had not yet “taken reasonable steps to address noise concerns at the proposed Project.”
Krzyzaniak repeatedly referred to the example of Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois as a model for what he wants do in River Falls. Meeting participants pointed out the Joliet site is surrounded by a large railyard, manufacturing plants, and warehouses, with much less noise impact on neighbors.
The plan for the main driving track at Krzyzaniak’s proposed facility would be in an angular figure eight shape, with several spurs that would allow for different configurations. It would include a nearly one-mile straightaway where drivers could get their vehicles up to 200 miles per hour. The proposal also calls for a professional kart track, where Krzyzaniak said future NASCAR drivers might train, on the north side of Highway 29.
Plans also call for numerous “villas,” which would be owned or rented by club members, as well as an RV park where traveling car enthusiasts could stay. There would also be a “skidpad” for testing vehicle handling, doing donuts, and burning rubber.
No details have yet been released about the August 22 meeting that Krzyzaniak and his partners repeatedly said would be scheduled to answer questions. St. Croix 360 will share that information once it is available, and continue to follow this story.
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