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Social Circle group mobilizes to oppose drag strip

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- It may be a few months until a decision on a proposed drag strip is made, but in the interim a group of Social Circle residents is mobilizing to form an organized opposition to the plans.

"We have to get together as a group and we have to defeat this drag strip," said Social Circle resident Jenny Cole, who is spearheading the group Concerned Citizens for Social Circle. "We have to help each other as a group. We've organized to make sure that we keep and maintain our quality of life."

The group held its first meeting Monday at the Social Circle Library and plans to meet regularly.

The controversy centers on a request by Walton County resident Donnie Clack to rezone about 320 acres situated north of Interstate 20 and west of U.S. Highway 278, near Willow Springs Church Road. The land is in both Newton and Walton counties and was annexed into the city of Social Circle in 2008.

Clack, who owns NASCAR Lanier National Speedway in Hall County, is asking that the property be rezoned from agricultural-use (AG2) to general commercial. The first part to be developed would be a 1/8-mile drag strip that would be a part of a larger motorsports complex that would include grandstands, parking area, a possible campground/RV park area, playgrounds, motocross track, multi-use arena and staging area.

The plans have polarized the community. Many support the plans, believing the motorsports complex will bring a much-needed economic boost to the area. Residents living near the proposed site, however, including those in Surrey Chase subdivision and along Willow Springs Church Road, have raised vocal concerns about noise levels, traffic and diminished quality of life the drag strip would bring.

Cole, who lives off Willow Springs Church Road, not far from the site of the proposed drag strip, has formed a Web site for Concerned Citizens of Social Circle, www.ccosc.com. Through the site, residents can view the preliminary plans for the drag strip, find information about upcoming meetings of the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council, as well as contact information for members of the two bodies. Cole has also posted videos of several drag racing events.

Cole said the group is seeking input from experts who can weigh in on the environmental, health and economic impact a drag strip would have on the area and residents. She said public pressure alone won't persuade the Planning Commission or City Council to deny Clack's rezoning request.

"We have to have facts. The proof is in the pudding, as my mama said," Cole said. "We have to prove why this would be detrimental and we need anybody who has facts that can prove that."

The Social Circle Planning and Zoning Commission voted in November to recommend approval of the rezoning request with certain special conditions. The Social Circle City Council was slated to take action on the recommendation during its public meeting in December; however, due to overwhelming public attendance and comments at the meeting -- many citizens were forced to stand in the parking lot due to the standing-room-only crowd inside the Community Room -- the City Council voted to defer the matter back to the Planning and Zoning Commission to hammer out the details of the special conditions.

City Clerk Susan Roper said the Planning and Zoning Commission is slated to meet at 6 p.m. Jan. 25. However, because no other business is on the agenda, Roper said the Planning Commission is instead planning to hold a work session to discuss the special conditions on the rezoning request -- primarily noise and traffic concerns. The work session will be between a special committee of the Planning Commission, Clack and some members of the public who are opposed to the drag strip.

"This is not going to be a public hearing for public input, although they will take into consideration public input already given by using some of those people on the work session panel," Roper said.

Depending on the outcome of this work session, the Planning and Zoning Commission may take up the matter at its next public meeting Feb. 22. The earliest, then, the City Council could consider the matter would be at its March 16 meeting.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners has weighed in on the debate and recently submitted a letter to Kent Adams, the chairman of the city of Social Circle Planning Commission, objecting to the proposed drag strip.

"The proposal for a drag strip north of I-20 at the edge of Newton County should be rejected," the letter states. "A drag strip might bring tourism, restaurants, motels and retailers to the region, but at the high cost of creating an unbearable nuisance for existing residents and of negating many of the development advantages of our area."

Cole said she is encouraged that a decision on the rezoning request will not be made for a while.

"I'm glad to see the Planning Commission is going slow -- it has a lot of work to do," she said. "This is a very diverse, intricate business. It's not your usual mom-and-pop business. There will be a lot of repercussions that are detrimental to the community."