Clack will take drag strip plans to Newton BOC

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- A zoning error has taken a proposed drag strip out of the hands of Social Circle, but now the controversial plans will be a matter for Newton County to consider.

"We're going to move forward and see if the citizens of Newton County will get behind their commissioners and support a project that will bring jobs and growth to the area and be a benefit to the community," said Donnie Clack, the owner of approximately 321 acres along Interstate 20 and U.S. Highway 278 that was de-annexed Tuesday from the Social Circle city limits.

Clack, along with several other property owners in the area, annexed in 2008 about 1,150 acres of land located in Newton County into Social Circle. A year later, Clack petitioned the City Council to rezone the property from agriculture use to general commercial with special conditions for the purposes of constructing a motorsports complex, including a 1/8-mile drag strip.

Residents in Social Circle and Newton County have been sharply divided over Clack's plans. The controversy prompted many in opposition -- mostly homeowners whose property abuts Clack's property -- to form Concerned Citizens of Social Circle, or CCOSC. The goal of the group is to build opposition to the drag strip and urge the Social Circle City Council to deny the zoning request.

Clack has faced opposition to his plans since the Social Circle Planning and Zoning Commission took up the issue in November. The City Council, which was slated to hear the rezoning request in December, instead referred the matter back to the Planning and Zoning Commission to nail down the special conditions.

Planning and Zoning Commissioners asked Clack in January to present several specific details about noise and environmental impacts before it would consider recommending approval of special conditions necessary to approve the rezoning request.

In April, the City Council accepted Clack's request to withdraw his rezoning petition. A few weeks later, Clack attempted to reapply with some amendments to his original site plans, but that application was denied due to incomplete information, according to City Attorney Joe Reitman.

It was at this time that the error in the boundary description of Clack's property was discovered. A 1-acre parcel of land fronting U.S. 278 was considered part of Clack's Little River Ventures parcel upon annexation. That 1 acre is, in fact, owned by a separate individual, a parcel referred to in city correspondence as the "Jackson Parcel." The owner of this land did not request annexation into Social Circle in 2008, thereby creating an island of unincorporated land, which effectively negated the annexations of the 1,150 acres.

The City Council opted not to amend the boundary error and instead voted unanimously Tuesday to deannex all 1,150 acres brought into the city in 2008 and 2009.

If Clack or the owner of the Jackson Parcel seeks to annex back into the city, the newly deannexed property owners can then request to re-enter Social Circle. Otherwise, those properties will remain solely within the unincorporated portion of Newton County.

"Right now I have no plans to re-annex because I felt like the annexation could have been worked out in a different way," Clack said Wednesday. "I feel like I need to be positive and move forward. I have a ton of support from Newton County. ... My goal all along is to create a good project that is good for the entire community."

Clack said he and his attorney, Michele Battle, are preparing to present their plans to the Newton County Board of Commissioners in June.

"I would love to think they're willing to be open-minded enough to listen to what's in this project," he said.

The hurdle may be high, though, since Newton County commissioners came out early in opposition to Clack's project. Commissioners sent a letter to the Social Circle City Council urging its denial of the rezoning request, stating the motorsports project would not conform to the county's Comprehensive Land Use Plan and would have an adverse impact on the surrounding area.

All along Clack has touted the economic benefits of his project, saying it would provide a much-needed boost to the local economy.

"I'm the only one who has any project for this area that is drawing any support," he said.

And while he recognizes there is opposition, Clack maintains his development would draw significant revenue -- a bright spot in the midst of layoffs and elimination of programs in the county and school system.

"Who knows, maybe now with all the tax money going to the taxpayers of Newton County, maybe (the BOC) will be open-minded," he said.

If Clack should decide to annex back into Social Circle, he would need to wait 12 months before applying to rezone his property. State Rep. Doug Holt, (R-Social Circle) -- who sponsored legislation in 2007 governing annexations as a result of the contentious Social Circle annexations -- said if landowners in the vicinity of property to be annexed raise objections, for instance that annexing the land would damage their property values, the county commission could implement a review panel.

"The review panel can't necessarily say 'no' to the annexation, but they could establish conditions of the annexation," Holt said.

For opponents of the proposed drag strip, it doesn't matter which governing body has jurisdiction over any rezoning.

"This is on the corner of my property, and we're not done," said Jenny Cole, organizer of CCOSC. "We're still in Social Circle and it doesn't matter which side of I-20 you live on, this will affect anyone who lives 5 to 10 miles from this project. ... It could be very devastating, in my opinion, to my quality of life and our property values."