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Wednesday, 19 January 2011 19:43

Weak zoning laws could pave way for dirt-bike racetrack

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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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