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Drag strip supporters, critics form groups

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- Two competing citizens' groups have been established for proponents and opponents of a proposed drag strip in Social Circle.

Concerned Citizens of Social Circle was formed by residents who are urging the Social Circle City Council to deny a zoning request that would pave the way for a motorsports complex near Interstate 20 and U.S. Highway 278. This group has begun distributing petitions and signs in the community against the proposal and has met each Monday at the Social Circle Library. However, due to the number of people attending CCOSC meetings, the group has begun meeting at First Baptist Church of Social Circle.

At the same time, Donnie Clack, owner of the property in question, has formed an organization, Citizens For The Motorsports Complex. Clack said the group held its first meeting Tuesday and he was pleased that about 60 people attended.

"Supporters are just now coming out of the woodwork," Clack said Thursday.

He said most people who reside within the city limits of Social Circle don't live near the site of the proposed drag strip, which is on land north of Interstate 20 and west of U.S. 278 that is in both Newton and Walton counties and was annexed into the city of Social Circle in 2008. The total acreage Clack seeks to rezone from agricultural-use (AG2) to general commercial is 320 acres. Approximately 120 acres of that would be used for the motorsports complex. The first part to be developed would be a 1/8-mile drag strip.

The Social Circle Planning and Zoning Commission voted in November to recommend approval of the rezoning request with certain special conditions. The City Council was expected to take action on the recommendation during its public meeting in December; however, due to overwhelming public attendance and comments at the meeting, the City Council voted to defer the matter back to the Planning and Zoning Commission to hammer out the details of the special conditions.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a work session at 6 p.m. Monday to discuss the special conditions on the rezoning request. 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. No public comment will be allowed, although the meeting is open to the public.

In the meantime, supporters and critics are mobilizing.

Clack, who owns NASCAR Lanier National Speedway in Hall County, said the motorsports complex will be the engine that will drive economic growth to the surrounding area. He said people who participate in motorsports have significant disposable income and pointed out that the average cost of a car that runs on a drag strip like he is proposing is about $100,000.

"This is an expensive hobby," Clack said. "It will have a huge impact on the area's hotels, restaurants, gas stations."

He said that while he understands some of the concerns he's heard from nearby residents and officials -- including the Newton County Board of Commissioners, which sent a letter to the Planning Commission expressing its opposition to the rezoning request -- such as noise and pollution, many are based in misinformation. Clack said drag strips are much cleaner and safer than people realize. He is working with engineers to mitigate the impact of sound, as well.

"The weather has more effect on how sound travels than anything," said Clack, using the example that some days a jet airplane flying 5 miles overhead will sound much closer than that and then there will be times when there is no sound from a plane flying at the same distance.

Clack said the primary goal of Citizens For The Motorsports Complex is to dispel rumors and incorrect information passing through the community.

For example, the group's Web site states, "The first statement the group would like for citizens to know is that although the development proposed a 'drag strip,' it will be 1/8 mile. This in return means that the "TOP FUEL" cars will not be ran (sic) at the facility. With the limitation of cars that the facility can run also comes limitation of noise that the facility is capable of producing."

In this same spirit, the site states: "We strongly (emphasis theirs) suggest if you or any persons you know oppose the development to please attend these meetings."

Citizens For The Motorsports Complex will meet again at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Jersey Community Center in Jersey.

For more information on this group, visit citizensforthemotorsportscomplex.com.

To learn more about Concerned Citizens of Social Circle, visit its Web site, www.ccosc.com.