JDA stays out of drag strip controversy

COVINGTON -- The Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton counties has decided that for the time being, it will take no official action regarding the proposed drag strip in Social Circle.

The authority met Tuesday night and heard a presentation from a group of citizens opposed to the drag strip, which would be located at Interstate 20 and U.S. Highway 278, across the interstate from Stanton Springs, a mixed-use project still under development by the authority.

"We decided we would continue to monitor the drag strip and not take official action as it relates to us as a board," said Commissioner Mort Ewing, who serves as Newton County's representative on the authority. "Everybody on the board, plus Technology Park Atlanta (the project developer), voiced opposition and concern about the drag strip, but since the city of Social Circle has taken no official action, we chose to just continue to monitor it and review the situation at our next meeting (in February)."

Ewing said the authority would hold a special called meeting before that if board members felt it was necessary.

Ewing said his personal concerns have already been stated in a letter the Newton County Board of Commissioners sent to the Social Circle Planning and Zoning Commission.

The letter states that the drag strip would harm Stanton Springs.

"If you were making a decision about where to locate a facility for your company and you planned to live near your office, the mention of 'drag strip' would likely dampen severely your interest in our area," it states.

Doug Rhodes, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Social Circle, a group organized in opposition to the drag strip, said he was pleased that JDA members agreed to send a representative to all future Social Circle Planning and Zoning Commission meetings.

"My personal goal is for them to express concerns. I'm not trying to persuade them to be for or against it, but I'm trying to persuade them to voice concerns if they have any," Rhodes said. "I wasn't discouraged by the meeting, but I wasn't 100 percent encouraged."

The 1/8-mile drag strip would be part of a larger motor sports complex that will include grandstands, parking area, a possible campground/RV park area, playgrounds, motocross track, multiuse arena and staging area. Property owner Donnie Clack is asking for 322 acres to be rezoned from agricultural-use (AG2) to General Commercial.

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted in November to recommend approval of the rezoning request with special conditions. The 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, the City Council voted to defer the matter back to the Planning and Zoning Commission to hammer out the details of the special conditions.

At a Tuesday Planning and Zoning Commission work session, planning commissioners asked Clack to provide specific data on noise and traffic and to supply a business model with substantive data on revenue projections. They did not impose a timeline for Clack to provide the information.

Staff correspondent Aimee A. Jones contributed to this story.