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Social Circle considers drag strip complex

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- Newton and Walton county residents will have an opportunity to weigh in on a proposed drag strip that could be built on more than 100 acres near U.S. Highway 278 and Interstate 20.

When the Social Circle City Council meets next week, it will take up the property owner's request to rezone 320 acres of land located north of I-20 and west of U.S. 278, bordering both roads, from agricultural-use (AG2) to General Commercial.

"(The property owner's) proposed use will only be for roughly 120 acres of his total land area," said City Manager Doug White in an e-mailed response to questions. "He has long-range plans for the balance of the property with such uses as a motel, possible outlet mall and truck stop."

Donnie Clack plans to construct an outdoor recreational area to allow for a 1/8-mile drag strip, grandstands, parking area, possible campground/RV park area, playgrounds, motocross track, multiuse arena and staging area. The majority of his land is situated in Newton County, although the motorsports complex would be in both Walton and Newton counties, he said.

The Newton County section was annexed in 2008 into the Social Circle city limits after years of legislative wrangling.

The Social Circle Planning and Zoning Commission recently approved recommendation of the rezoning request, which will now head to the City Council for approval.

"The Planning Commission has set conditions on the days of operation, the hours of operation, and we are still working on noise control modifications," White said. "Both the nearby residents, the city and the owner want to buffer the noise from the activities and the owner is studying the types of buffering materials that other raceways have found successful for such applications."

He added that Clack has a policy that alcohol is not to be sold at his racing venues.

White said the city has not yet calculated potential tax projections from the proposed development.

Clack, who lives in Walton County, owns NASCAR Lanier National Speedway and Road Atlanta in Braselton, said he foresees his development will not only generate economic progress along the I-20 corridor, but will also provide a family-friendly environment that the entire community can enjoy.

"This will be environmental and neighborhood-friendly," Clack said Tuesday.

Because the racetrack will be shorter -- 1/8 mile instead of the more common 1/4-mile track -- it will be open for amateur drivers as well as professional.

"This way street cars, family cars and police cars can come out, and we'd like to tie it in to the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, and make it family-friendly," he said.

Clack said he also plans to construct a covered arena that would attract rodeos, outdoor concerts under roof, car shows and other fundraising events.

"My ultimate end goal is for an outlet mall to come here, which is why I want to do the motorsports complex first, in hopes that it will bring in outside investors to be a part of what we're doing," he said.

Clack pointed to the development in Commerce where there is a large Tanger Outlet center.

"The first thing that was in Commerce was a drag strip, the Atlanta Dragway, and then all the hotels, motels, Cracker Barrels, Zaxby's and outlet malls came along because of all the traffic to the area and there was more exposure," he said. "Right now, there is nothing to bring anyone here, but I'm hoping to generate a lot of commerce for everybody."

Surrounding the property Clack hopes to rezone are several residential areas, such as Surrey Chase subdivision. Clack said he is aware that some homeowners are concerned about the noise and pollution that may be associated with the motorsports complex he is proposing.

"I have engineers looking into creating sound barrier walls, landscaping, natural buffers -- there are so many ways to approach a situation like that," he said. "There are ways to make this thing environmentally friendly, and the last thing we want to do is be a bad neighbor. That doesn't do anyone any good."

All in all, Clack said, he expects this motorsports complex will be a financial boon to Walton and Newton counties.

"I live in Walton County and I'm hoping we can contribute to the tax base here to help property owners like myself get some relief, he said. "I know of 50 or so people personally in Newton and Walton counties who go somewhere else to do what they would love to do at home. We could help keep that tax base locally."

Clack will be given an opportunity to present his plans during the upcoming City Council meeting. Members of the public will also have the chance to voice their opinions before the council takes action.

The City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the old City Hall building.