To the Editor:

Clarks Chapel is a delightful and quiet area that in recent years has attracted many people, including retirees, investing in land and homes. They have done so to enjoy the tranquility and beauty of this small part of the mountains.

Mr. Bud Talley is proposing to insert into this lovely area a commercial motocross track, operating it for monetary gain with, in our view, no genuine concern about the effect it would have on his neighbors.

Macon County has no zoning, but like other counties in Western North Carolina it has a high impact ordinance to help reduce the negative effects of intrusive businesses. Mr. Talley needed, and attempted to obtain, a waiver of a key provision of the ordinance so he could proceed with his track, but was refused. So he is now proposing to go ahead with an alternative version, exploiting a loophole in the law that would allow him to operate all day, seven days a week, and which he has openly stated would have greater negative impact on neighbors than his original proposal.  

Talley says that we neighbors “don’t understand,” that motocross racing is not like Hell’s Angels, but is a “family activity.” This is patronizing to us; we know what it is. What he doesn’t mention is that motocross is an extremely noisy and disruptive activity that has huge negative impacts on those living close by. The fact that many such tracks all over the country have attracted lawsuits by neighbors shows clearly that placing motocross in residential areas is in no way positive.

Even the pastor of a nearby church testified in the waiver hearing against his proposal because it would be disruptive to the work of the church.

Talley and others say that he should have the right to do what he wants on his own property. We agree that property rights must be respected. But what does that mean? We have property too. Don’t we have the right to enjoy our properties in peace, to quietly tend to our gardens, sit on our porches on tranquil evenings, and have friends over for dinner and quiet conversation? Talley’s exercising his property right would take away our property rights. Why should his rights take precedence over ours? No one has the right, in exercising his rights, to take away the rights of others. Rights are not absolute. They often conflict, and must always be exercised responsibility.

During the variance hearing Talley magnanimously and publicly offered to place ads in local papers to let us know when races would be held, so we could go somewhere else for the weekend and avoid the noise.  Isn’t that nice!  His idea, apparently, is that it’s OK we neighbors would have to abandon our homes so he can have his races and make money.  This shows to us, as it should to everyone, how out-of-touch he is with understanding the impacts of what he is proposing. We don’t understand what world he is living in, but it’s not a world inhabited by any of us.

Talley has stated that the economic benefits of the track would outweigh the costs. This is patently false. It is an indisputable fact that motocross tracks severely reduce nearby property values. Under real estate sales rules that have been developed by the private sector real estate industry, not any government, the existence of such a track nearby is deemed a negative “material fact,” and must be disclosed to potential buyers. Testimony at the hearing showed that, given the value of property in the vicinity, even a small percentage reduction in value, a very conservative estimate, would diminish surrounding property value by several million dollars. In essence, Tally is trying to make money for himself by robbing us, his neighbors, of our property values that we have invested our own hard-earned money in, and have every right to expect will be protected.

This project will also weigh on the future economy of the county. A highly visible racing facility would send a strong signal that Macon County is unwilling and/or unable to control the development of obnoxious activities, greatly reducing its attractiveness as a place to live and retire. Many persons who have bare land in our area, and planed to build retirement homes, are already on record that they will not do so if this project moves forward. The loss for the county would be enormous.

In sum, this track is a very bad idea. We earnestly hope Mr. Talley will look to the infinity of other ways he can draw income from his property. Given the current lack of protective laws in Macon County, if he goes ahead our only recourse will be the courts, to stop the track or, failing that, seek damages. These strategies have been successful elsewhere, but they only enrich lawyers, who would be happy to take on the ensuing cases that would seek thousands or even millions in damages. We hope not to be forced down that road, but if left with no other choice will have little option but to do so.

John and Janet Binkley

John and Joye Feaster

Lynn Olson

Macon County residents

Editor’s note: Bud Talley, who is planning to build the motocross track, was given the opportunity to respond to this letter but declined.

Bud Talley said this week he plans to move forward on building a dirt-bike track on his farm in Macon County despite opposition from neighbors.

The size and scope of the project hasn’t yet been determined, Talley said, but “something” will be built come spring.

“The economy is failing everywhere, and I’m not sure how much money I want to invest,” the farmer and owner of Nantahala Meats in Franklin said.

Talley set off a firestorm of controversy in Macon County after his neighbors in the largely residential Clarks Chapel community learned he intended to build a dirt-bike track. Talley asked the Macon County Board of Adjustment in December for a setback variance that would have given him the needed wiggle room to build a sanctioned track. He withdrew the variance when board members signaled their intention to deny the request.

More than 100 people turned out for the hearing, most to speak against Talley’s planned dirt-bike track.

Even without a setback, there is apparently nothing to prevent Talley from legally building a dirt-bike track, or motorcross, albeit it smaller than originally intended to comply with the county’s setback requirements. He became interested in the sport because his son is involved in dirt-bike racing.

The Macon County businessman and farmer who stirred up controversy recently by announcing plans to build a dirt-bike racetrack in a residential community said he’s still deciding whether to move forward with the plan.

More than 100 people turned out for a public meeting last month after Herman “Bud” Talley, owner of Nantahala Meats in Franklin and of a 45-acre farm in the Clarks Chapel community, asked the Macon County Board of Adjustment for a variance to the county’s high-impact use law.

A nod of approval would have allowed Talley to build a sanctioned track. He needed a setback exception — reducing a 750-foot buffer zone to about 350 feet — to meet parking and other needs stipulated by the American Motorcyclist Association. Board members appeared poised to reject the request, and Talley backed off in response.

But, as he and his attorney pointed out then, that rejection means he might just move forward with building a legal, but unsanctioned, facility for dirt-bike practice.

The devil is truly in the details on this one. If granted the variance, Talley had promised to build a track that would be used, at most, 16 days a year. Or, he could opt for the smaller practice facility — which would fit within the confines of the setback requirements and therefore doesn’t need a variance — and operate 365 days a year.

Opponents told the Board of Adjustment in December they’d rather gamble on Talley not following through rather than see him open a track under the auspices of county-granted legitimacy.

“I’m in limbo right now,” Talley said this week. “I’m kind of just exploring all my options.”

There’s no particular rush to decide given the harsh winter weather, which has shutdown construction projects across the mountains. Talley has characterized the construction of a dirt-bike racetrack as a last-ditch effort to save his farm.

John Binkley, who lives within earshot of Talley’s property and who has helped organize neighbors to derail the construction of a dirt-bike racetrack, said the loosely affiliated group is monitoring the situation the best they can.

“We’re keeping an eye on it,” he said recently. “No machinery has actually appeared and started digging.”

Binkley added he hopes the situation in Clarks Chapel helps other mountain residents understand why land controls are needed.

“When these kind of things happen, hopefully more and more people catch on,” he said.

Opponents have cited land devaluation and loss of peace and quiet as reasons they don’t want Talley to move forward.

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