Residents riled over drag strip

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- Residents along U.S. Highway 278 in Walton and Newton counties are urging the Social Circle City Council to weigh the opinions of nearby property owners before approving a proposal that would bring a drag strip to the area.

Property owner Donnie Clack has requested to rezone approximately 320 acres of land in Newton and Walton counties located north of Interstate 20 and west of U.S. Highway 278 from agricultural-use (AG2) to General Commercial. Clack is seeking a conditional use permit on 120 acres of that land in order to construct a 1/8-mile drag strip that would be a part of a larger motorsports complex that will include a 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,

Clack, who lives in Walton County, owns NASCAR Lanier National Speedway and Road Atlanta in Braselton.

And while most residents believe the acreage along U.S. 278 and Willow Springs Church Road should be rezoned to allow for commercial use, many are dismayed to think a drag strip would go there.

"People just do not know what they're getting with a drag strip," said Social Circle resident Jane Williams. "They just don't understand. It's tax revenue, yes, but we need other things in Social Circle other than that."

And Williams should know. For 30 years, she and her husband Jon lived along County Road 229 in Newton County, about 1-1/2 miles from a drag strip that was situated where South Fork subdivision is now located.

"It was very noisy, especially on Saturdays and Sundays and even with the air conditioning on in the summertime, you could still hear it," Williams said. "Anybody who lived along there then knows how noisy and crowded it was."

Jennifer Cole lives off Willow Springs Church Road, not far from the site of the proposed drag strip.

"I am not in favor of this," she said. "This will impact our quality of life, impact our residential home values. My neighbors and I are extremely upset."

Chief among Cole's concerns is the level of noise and pollution that will come from the drag strip.

"The noise is going to affect our quality of life -- there is no way to stop the noise," she said. "You can put in buffers and all that, but you can't stop it. ... This is a peaceful, rural, single-family dwelling area. Many of us have acreage with cows, goats and livestock. This is just not the best use of the property."

And at the same time, Cole said she is not against other commercial development.

"That is very valuable property there, and I think if our city leaders will be patient that we can have a better venue that would be a better neighbor and also bring in more tax dollars," she said.

"Progress is going to come -- just look at Hazelbrand Road, Georgia Perimeter College is at Exit 98 and Exit 101, that's where it's going to be," Cole said. "A drag strip doesn't need to be our anchor to determine the type of businesses that will follow."

Clack will present his plans for the land during the City Council's meeting Tuesday, at which time the council will vote to deny or approve his rezoning request. Clack said he is aware of residents' concerns about noise and pollution, which is why he made a last-minute trip to Orlando, Fla., this week to attend a trade show.

"That's why I'm down here learning about noise and exhaust," Clack said Thursday. "I thought it would be good to go and I didn't want to go too quick."

Earlier in the day Thursday, Clack requested the City Council remove his petition from Tuesday's agenda so he would have more time to research ways to minimize noise and air pollution from the track. A short time later, however, he changed his mind and told City Manager Doug White that he was ready to proceed.

"I've got some good ideas that I can share," Clack said. "People don't quite understand, this is not a big, blown-out idea. It's going to have something for everybody. Sometimes people jump on one bandwagon and don't look at the overall picture."

Putting aside the type of development Clack is proposing, Cole and others expressed concern that adjacent property owners who are not within the corporate limits of Social Circle were not adequately notified about the rezoning request. She said there are signs posted along the property stating a rezoning request is pending, but Cole said she had no idea about the specifics of the request until an acquaintance happened to mention it the day the Social Circle Planning and Zoning Commission met at the end of November.

"Adjoining land owners should be notified regardless of whether they live in the city or the county," Cole said. "We have a right to know about issues that could affect our personal lives and our personal investment -- our home and our family are the biggest investments we'll ever make, and for the City Council to have that power -- and we're not in the city -- it's frightening."

Theresa Camp lives on land adjacent to Cole's property and she's concerned about the noise and air pollution that could create a health hazard for her and her grandchildren who live with her.

"I knew something would go there, but I didn't think it would be this kind of health hazard and total destruction of our lives -- and the noise from this drag strip will be a destruction of our lives."

But Camp's main concern: "The way this was handled without the residents knowing. ... We're not in the city, we live in the county, but we still have a right to know," she said.

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