GALVESTON — On a hot Thursday afternoon, 10 racers buzzed around the track at Galveston Go Carts and Fun Center on Seawall Boulevard. As the carts raced counterclockwise around the winding track, a hum drifted through the air.
Standing in the gravel parking lot, the noise rose as the racers approached the track’s southeast corner then faded to nothing as they turned left and were blocked by a hill.
The go cart track and arcade, the only one of its kind on the island, opened in March. Its owners already are thinking of expanding.
Two weeks ago, the city’s planning commission considered approving a specific-use permit that would allow the center to build a second track.
“The second go cart track is for the future,” said John Zhang, one of the three owners who make up Jungle Surf Partners. The company would not build the second track unless there was demand for it, he said.
Just the proposal of a second track drew the ire of a group of property owners from the neighboring Maravilla Condominiums, who told the commission that track owners had not met the promises they made last year when the business went through its initial permitting process.
The condo owners said they worried that the noise from an additional track would drive away people wanting to rent their condos.
They also said the owners had not met the conditions of the original specific-use permit the owners agreed to in May 2012.
Some said the noise was already disagreeable.
“I can tell you when I walk my dog at night, when the street noise comes down, it is like a bunch of lawn mowers — it’s just very disturbing,” said Gisela Bankston, who owns three condos at the Maravilla.
When the city council approved the original permit, it required, among other things, that the owners build a sidewalk from Seawall Boulevard to the entrance of the arcade, which is down a 500-foot driveway.
The permit also required that the track make efforts to “to buffer the neighboring condominium developments from noise,” to build a fence along the property line and to apply for permits when erecting signs.
Today, there is no sidewalk from Seawall Boulevard (Zhang said the owners were working to get that requirement rescinded) and the fence that was erected is little more than dowels connected by wire stretching the length of the property. Hardly enough to block a breeze, never mind the sound of a race.
Some of the owners said that some of the advertising signage that has been erected by the track owners does not meet with the city’s ordinances.
Despite the owners’ complaints, Louise Moore, the property manager at the Maravilla, said she has never received a complaint about the noise or other violations from people now living on the property. Most of the owners come from out of town, including one couple that flew in from Colorado to object to the proposal.
Similarly, planning director Rick Vasquez said the city had received no official complaints about violations at the facility. Vasquez said there may, in fact, be violations, but he told the commission that his stretched-thin code enforcement officers would likely be unable to identify violations on their own.
“We currently have extremely limited capacity to enforce our zoning regulations,” Vazquez said. “We probably spend 10 to 15 hours per week on enforcement by one individual.
“We too are frustrated that our codes are not complied with; unless you have a robust enforcement element, then the likelihood of successful implementation of your codes is limited.”
After hearing the complaints, the planning commission voted to recommend denying the special-use permit, saying that because a sidewalk had not been built, the owners had not yet complied with their original special-use permit.
That recommendation will be taken to the city council, possibly as early as next week’s July 11 meeting when the council members will make the deciding vote on whether to grant a new permit or not.