Opponents of drag strip still worried

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- Opponents of a proposed drag strip in Social Circle are unmoved by the property owner's offer to redesign his plans.

"The issues will be the same, they're just repackaged," Jenny Cole told a gathering of fellow Social Circle residents Thursday during a meeting of the Concerned Citizens of Social Circle.

Property owner Donnie Clack's plans to construct a motorsports complex on more than 320 acres between Interstate 20 and U.S. Highway 278 has met with resistance from many residents -- and at least one elected official -- in Social Circle. The primary point of contention is over Clack's plans to build a 1/8-mile drag strip on the land that is surrounded by many residences, including homes on Willow Springs Church Road and Surrey Chase subdivision. Most of the land in question lies in Newton County, which was annexed into the city of Social Circle in 2008.

State Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle, has laid the groundwork to introduce legislation that would de-annex the Newton County portion of Clack's property from Social Circle, thereby requiring Clack to petition the Newton County Board of Commissioners for his rezoning request. Before Holt can formally introduce the legislation, however, the two other state legislators who represent Social Circle -- Rep. Jeff May, R-Monroe, and state Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle -- must sign on. Attempts to reach May and Douglas have been unsuccessful.

Since Clack's rezoning request was first taken up by the Social Circle Planning and Zoning Commission in November, homeowners have raised concerns that the motorsports complex in general, and the drag strip in particular, would result in disruptive noise, increased traffic and air and water pollution.

Clack has requested to rezone his property from agricultural use to general commercial and is seeking a conditional use permit that would allow him to construct the drag strip.

In January, the Planning and Zoning Commission told Clack to present specific details about his plans, including environmental impacts, business plans and mitigation of noise.

On Wednesday, Clack and his attorney, Michelle Battle, called a public meeting to announce their plans to withdraw his rezoning request without prejudice -- meaning Clack could reapply in 30 or 45 days -- and to present a revised site plan that was created, Battle said, in an effort to address some of the residents' concerns. Some of the changes include moving the drag strip further into the interior of the property, away from U.S. 278 and further from residences on Willow Springs Church Road, and constructing a four-lane parkway connecting U.S. 278 with the drag strip. Further, Clack said he would scrap plans for a campground and instead construct softball fields or other recreational fields.

But for many homeowners, these proposed changes do little to change their minds.

"Motorsports complexes are not a bad venue, but if a noise issue is attached to it and that noise is a nuisance; if a pollution issue is attached to it, it's a nuisance," said Surrey Chase resident Bob Hapner. "I guess speaking from an alarmist perspective, we believe our property values will diminish, we just don't know how much. ... There's not a degree of a little nuisance or a lot of nuisance."

Cole said Thursday that regardless of the details of Clack's plans, he must comply with the city's ordinances and the City Council must uphold those ordinances.

"The city has guidelines and it's our job to make sure they adhere to those guidelines," Cole said.

She pointed out that some good has already come from the public debate over the proposed drag strip. Cole said the City Council will have the second reading at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday over proposed changes to its ordinances governing public notification of rezoning requests -- changes that were prompted from many homeowners who felt they were not properly notified about Clack's request.

Cole was hesitant to say much more about Clack's revised plans since he had not formally withdrawn his petition as of Friday afternoon.

And even if he does file for withdrawal, she said, Clack will probably reapply.

"If he reapplies, we're back to square one, guys," Cole said. "Don't let up y'all. We're just starting over."