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Posted: December 7, 2009 4:30 p.m.

Proposed Social Circle drag strip met with noise concerns

Image from Breedlove Land Planning, Inc./

Site of controversy: The proposed drag strip is located on 120 acres of land in both Walton and Newton counties, and would include a 660-foot drag strip, a covered arena and a campsite. Before any facility could be built, the land would need to be...

The Social Circle Planning and Zoning Commission recently passed a report approving a change in zoning for 120 acres of land off Highway 278, north of Interstate 20, on the corner of Willow Springs Church Road, to commercial zoning for a proposed drag strip. The land that would be used is in both Walton and Newton counties,

Many citizens have reported that they feel such an establishment would bring entirely too much noise to the area, and thus affect the quality of life for Social Circle residents. Many Walton and Newton residents, who live nearby but do not live in the city of Social Circle, are also concerned about the atmosphere the drag strip would bring.

"I live very close to the site," said Don Partee, a Walton County resident. "And the major concern of all residents is the noise. I haven't spoken to anyone who is concerned about the re-zoning - we've thought for a long time that should be zoned commercial due to how close it is to the interstate - the problem is the idea of a drag strip."

Other residents have voiced concerns that the drag strip would hurt property values, and that the facility would disturb the quiet community that the residents love. Residents are also concerned that the drag strip might also bring drugs and heavy alcohol consumption to the area. Some have also voiced concern for the churches nearby, stating that services might be disturbed by the weekend events.

According to Social Circle Mayor James Burgess, the final proposal will be presented before the city council during the monthly council meeting on Dec. 15. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the old City Hall building.

Donnie Clack, the petitioner who asked for the change in zoning and who will own the new drag strip, will be present and, in accordance with Georgia law, will be given 10 minutes to speak directly to the council about the proposed project. Citizens, both in support and opposition of the drag strip, will then be given a chance to speak to the council to voice their opinions about the project.

Burgess said anyone wishing to speak at the meeting will be invited to do so. A sign up sheet will be distributed before the meeting starts for citizens to speak — residents do not need to contact city hall to be placed on the agenda.

The drag strip was brought before the Social Circle Planning Commission two weeks ago, where Clack presented the plans for the proposed project, as well as addressing any concerns, including questions from the commission regarding noise from the raceway.

In the initial presentation of the project, which was held at the planning and zoning commission meeting in late November, a description and sketch of the drag strip was presented, and at that time the issue of noise was addressed. According to City Manager Doug White, the plans include a buffer that would quiet the majority of any noise made at the raceway.

Clack stated that they have engineers inspecting the site of the project to discern the best ways to suppress sound. He also stated they have been in conversation with other racetracks across the country to consult with them on the best ways to keep volume down.

Clack, who also owns Lanier National Speedway in Braselton, said he and his team are very conscious of the potential for noise pollution.

"Sound travels differently in different areas. It sounds different in a desert than in mountains," Clack said. "We’re trying to find the best ways to work here."

Clack also said the shorter length of the track, which is only 660 feet long, and not the quarter mile that many drag strips are, will help keep many of the vehicles from being as loud as they might normally be.

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the project and have given the council their report on the proposed drag strip. According to Burgess, the council is not bound by the decision of the zoning commission and may vote against it if they deem it necessary.

The land where the proposed drag strip would be located is currently zoned as agricultural, and the council will need to approve a re-zoning for commercial use before the project can be approved and construction of any kind can begin. The decision made at the council meeting will determine whether the land will be re-zoned for the project.

Burgess said he expects that there will be some "pretty strict limitations and constraints" on the project, and that it should not affect the quality of life of Social Circle residents.

"It's not an eight hour a day, every day sort of deal," Burgess said. "It will be used for special activities and won't be operating all the time."

Clack stated that there would be more than just a drag strip on the site. They also hope to have events like car shows and possibly rodeos. He stated that he believes the site would help bring in revenue for Social Circle, not just in taxes, but also by bringing people to the downtown area where they could shop or dine.

"We’re looking to get as much community involvement that we can," Clack said. "We want to get people interested in the area. We would work with D.A.R.E. and local law enforcement, and would have an officer present at all events."

Other features of the drag strip would include a multi-purpose arena, a campground for RV and traditional camping and a possible waste processing facility for civic use.

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