Social Circle de-annexes drag strip land

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- The property at the center of the proposed drag strip controversy has now been removed from the city limits of Social Circle and is solely within the jurisdiction of Newton County. As a result, the property owner will have to wait at least a year before he could apply to the city for a rezoning that would pave the way for a motorsports complex.

The Social Circle City Council unanimously approved on Tuesday an ordinance to de-annex parcels of land along U.S. Highway 278 and Interstate 20 due to a "technical flaw" in the 2008 annexation of the property owned by Donnie Clack.

According to a letter drafted by City Attorney Joe Reitman to Clack's attorney, Michele Battle, a one-acre parcel of land fronting U.S. 278 was erroneously considered part of Clack's larger Little River Ventures parcel. However, this one-acre is apparently owned by a separate individual, who did not request annexation into Social Circle in 2008, thereby creating an island of unincorporated land, which makes the annexation illegal.

Reitman explained Tuesday that everyone involved in the annexation -- Clack, the city of Social Circle and Newton County -- acted in good faith, believing the one-acre to be a part of Clack's land.

The mistake was noted recently, Reitman said, when the legitimate property owner placed a real estate sign on the lot.

"After recent investigation, it was determined that this lot was not part of the 2008 annexation legal description," Reitman stated in the letter to Clack's attorney. "It appears that because this lot remains in the county, it creates an apparent technical flaw in the annexation. It is my opinion that because of this apparent technical flaw, we should not review any zoning submissions from your client."

Reitman continued that he would recommend to Mayor Jim Burgess and the City Council that they "should reject any land-use applications from (Clack) or anyone else in that area annexed in 2008, and repeal the 2008 annexations. ... I fully realize that this action may be contrary to (Clack's) desires, but I believe it is in the best long-term interest of all residents and property owners to err on the side of caution."

Clack's property was part of about 700 acres owned by a handful of other Newton County landowners who requested annexation into Social Circle. The annexations were not viewed favorably by Newton County. In fact, the county and the city took their dispute over the annexations to court.

Annexation of Newton County property into Social Circle has historically been contentious and several pieces of state legislation have been passed since 2000 as a result, including a state law that requires cities seeking to annex land over a county line to first secure the permission of that county's Board of Commissioners.

Another state law requires property owners who annex into the city across county lines to wait one year before applying for rezoning of the land.

Clack did that and petitioned the city in 2009 to rezone more than 320 acres between the interstate and U.S. 278 from agricultural use to general commercial with special conditions to construct a motorsports complex. The anchor of the motorsports complex -- and the most polarizing aspect -- would be a 1/8-mile drag strip.

Clack's rezoning request has been met with opposition from many in the community since the Planning and Zoning Commission took up the issue in November. The City Council was slated to take action on his request in December, but it referred the matter back to the Planning and Zoning Commission to define the special conditions.

Many homeowners in the area -- most of whose property and neighborhoods abut Clack's land -- contended the drag strip would adversely impact their properties with increased noise, traffic and pollution.

A group of residents has come together to form Concerned Citizens of Social Circle, whose goal is to build opposition to the drag strip and urge the Social Circle City Council to deny the zoning request.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners sent a letter to the Social Circle City Council expressing its concern about Clack's plans and urged the City Council to deny his rezoning.

State Rep. Doug Holt, a Republican from Social Circle who represents Newton County, crafted legislation earlier this year that would have de-annexed the Newton County portion from Social Circle. The measure never gained momentum due to lack of action by the other two legislators -- state Rep. Jeff May, R-Monroe, and state Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle -- whose districts include Social Circle.

Now that the land has been de-annexed, the property owners, including Clack, must again petition the city if they want to come back within the jurisdiction of Social Circle.

As a result of the city's de-annexation ordinance, Clack will need to petition the Newton County Board of Commissioners for rezoning or apply once again to the city of Social Circle for annexation. In that case, he would need to wait 12 months before requesting a rezoning of the property.