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Posted: December 18, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Vote deferred for proposed S.C. drag strip

Planning and Zoning Comm. to review and finalize details

By Lee Sandow/

Differing views: Social Circle resident Elaine Crouch (left) speaks with petitioner Donnie Clack (right) about his proposed drag strip project. Crouch stated at the meeting she is "very opposed" to the project.

After listening Tuesday night to arguments for and against the proposed zoning change that would allow for a drag strip to be constructed outside of Social Circle, the City Council voted unanimously to send the proposal back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for further review.

Social Circle Mayor James Burgess believed the decision to defer the vote was in the best interest of both the city and the petitioner.

"It was a good public hearing," Burgess said. "We need to move in the long-term, best interest direction. We don’t want to have to make a decision without careful study and planning."

Donnie Clack, owner of Lanier National Speedway, and the petitioner who wants land he owns along U.S. Highway 278 re-zoned from agricultural to commercial to allow the drag strip to be constructed, also stated that he believed waiting was the right thing to do.

More than 200 concerned citizens came to the City Council meeting on Tuesday to voice their opinions on the proposed re-zoning. The meeting room in the Old City Hall was full to the brim, and many concerned residents listened from the parking lot outside.

Many residents who were opposed to the idea of a drag strip wore white stickers with the words No Drag Strip written on them in red. While stickers were abundant, there were many supporters of the idea of a drag strip were present as well.

Each side was given 30 minutes to speak, with city attorney Joe Reitman officiating the discussions.

Clack spoke first, again presenting the plans for the motorsports complex, introducing the concept of the 660 foot track, covered arena and areas for camping. He ended by describing, as best he could, what other sort of events might be held at the site, including animal shows, car shows, concerts and possibly rodeos. He also stressed it would bring not only tax dollars to the community, but also people to dine in their restaurants, shop in their stores and stay at their motels.

He deferred the rest of his allotted time to speak until his opposition had a chance to speak. The opposition had plenty to say.

The most common concern of the gathered crowds was noise control. Many residents stated that they had grown used to the sounds of trucks from the nearby interstate, but that the rumble of racing engines would not be so easy to tune out. Residents also complained that already existing activities like football and baseball games also already made plenty of noise to disturb the peace.

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Jenny Cole, who lives very close to where the site would be constructed, stated she didn’t think the project was the type of magnet to draw more businesses or people to the area.

"We have a responsibility to make sure we place proper limits put in place and that they are enforced," Cole said. "Don’t let Social Circle go from ‘Georgia’s best little town’ to ‘Georgia’s loudest little town.’ "

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Other residents made their statements towards Clack and the council more personal.

"We want to respect you, but not like this," said Gaines Lott, of the Surry Chase homeowners association. "Would you want a strip club because it generates revenue? You don’t want it in your back yards, and neither do we."

Lott stated he believed Clack and the Council were trying to pass the project under the table and without letting the community know. Reitman stated the city will continue to hold public hearings and that every decision on the project has been made by vote in a public meeting.

Elaine Crouch also reminded the council members that while they get the final vote, the citizens will hold them accountable if need be.

"The city, county and state officials are accountable to us," Crouch said. "They are put in office by us, and they can be removed by us. That’s not a threat, it’s a promise."

Residents voiced concerns other than just noise – possible impacts on crime and drug use, safety and traffic. The proximity of the project to Stanton Springs was also addressed.

The room was divided, and many local supporters were present, as well as racing professionals from across the state.

An Eatonton resident and representative for the American Drag Racing League spoke on behalf of the proposed drag strip.

"These gentlemen want to everything real organized," he said. "They’re working with law enforcement and the fire department. This won’t be a bunch of drinking and a bunch of hooligans."

The Social Circle Car Club was represented by Dave Bradbury, who stated the trepidation that existed when the Car Club first appeared has long since evaporated, and the club gives back to the community every year.

William Daniel, a Social Circle resident, brought his 9-year-old daughter, Jessie, to the meeting. Jessie, he said, has been a life-long racing fan, and even owns her own little racecar, which she calls "The Beast."

"We have to drive several hours to go to races," William said. "She’d love to have a place like that closer."

The Daniels and others stated that the site would give the youths in the community somewhere to go, and give them more to do in the community.

The Commission will continue to work with the petitioners for the zoning change to further establish any conditions or rules that would be in effect for the controversial site, as well as to figure out exactly what methods would be used to control and enforce any final noise ordinances. The vote will come back to the City Council after the Commission comes to a consensus on what those rules may be.

Burgess stated that he believed the meeting had been very productive, as it allowed residents to voice their concerns to the council and Donnie Clack, the petitioner who wants to build on the land. He stated this would allow the Zoning Commission and Clack to better take the community into consideration as they worked out stipulations and rules for the site.

Clack also stated the meeting had been productive, and stated hearing the points of view of his opponents would allow him to better suit the area to the residents' wishes.

"We want to work with the community," Clack said. "If this project would become something that would cause problems in the city, I wouldn't want to be part of it."

Social Circle Mayor James Burgess stated that he had not expected the turnout to be as high as it was, and stated future hearings would be held in a larger venue.

The next Planning and Zoning Meeting will be held on Dec. 28, and the next City Council meeting will be held in January, where further community hearings will be held in accordance with Social Circle and Georgia law. Both meetings will be open to the public and open for discussion.

In other Social Circle news:

• Bids were let for three projects on the site of the General Mills on Nov. 8, and several bids were received for each project. The council approved bids for all three projects on Tuesday night.

• All business in Social Circle that have licenses to sell beer and wine in Social Circle had have their licenses approved for another year. There are still no hard liquor licenses in town.

• Thomas Owens from Morgan Keegan and Company presented a proposal that would consolidate all current water and sewer system debt into one fund, which would also require a flat payment every year. Over a series of a few years, it would significantly lower the amount of interest paid on the debt. The council decided to look further into it at a future meeting.

• A third and final reading was given to the ordinance changes that were put into effect during 2009. No ordinances were changed or re-written.

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