More than 100 people turned out recently to protest a Macon County farmer’s plan to save his land by building a dirt-bike racetrack.
Herman “Bud” Talley, a well-known figure in Macon County — he’s owner of Nantahala Meats, home of the locally renowned Nantahala Brand Sausage — offered the county’s Board of Adjustment and his neighbors a Faustian bargain.
Endorse a variance needed for a setback and he’d build a sanctioned motocross course that would only open for 16 days a year (eight weekends, total, because the races would take place on Saturdays and Sundays). Or, turndown the request, and risk his building a practice course that could legally operate without restrictions for 365 days a year.
When the Macon County Board of Adjustment showed every indication of voting down the desired variance on a setback — members agreed at the outset of their deliberations he didn’t meet the requirements — Talley’s attorney withdrew his client’s request.
But not before scores of Macon County residents, particularly Talley’s neighbors in the Clarks Chapel community, united (for the most part, though not entirely) in roundly condemning his plans.
What’s going to happen next isn’t yet known. Some dirt-bike racetrack opponents said they view Talley’s threat as a reason to strengthen zoning laws in Macon County. This, they said, will serve as a rallying cry for that to take place.
Maybe, maybe not, what with a new Republican majority dominating the county’s always-conservative board of commissioners. For now, Talley can apparently still move forward if he wants with a practice facility, as his attorney made abundantly clear.
His need for a variance
Talley framed his variance request as a means of saving the family’s 45-acre farm, primarily home now to a herd of beef cattle, located in the Clarks Chapel community. The beef cattle will have to go, Talley said, adding it would break his heart. Motorcycles will replace them.
The 49-year-old Talley told how the land was cleared by hand by his father and grandfather, and had served the family well since being purchased in 1935. The Macon County native emphasized he felt bound by promises made to his late parents to protect the family’s holding, to find new and innovative ways in this difficult economic time for farmers to continue the Talley farming tradition.
Clarks Chapel, once home to acres and acres of prime farmland such as Talley’s, is an increasingly residential community situated just on the outskirts of Franklin. Retirees in particular have gravitated to the community, building houses as fast as Talley’s farming neighbors have given up and sold out.
Response: ‘Oh, bull’
Don’t fool yourself or try to fool us, opponents such as Margaret Crownover, who grew up on a farm near Asheville, told Talley. Build a dirt-bike racetrack and you’re not saving the farm — that’s not agriculture by any name. Farming is about cattle. Vegetables. Pitchforks and manure. Not helmets and motorcycles and throngs of people riding around in circles. Dirt bikes aren’t farming — the argument is, in reality, about one man’s wish to build a motorcycle racetrack in a residential community, pure and simple.
“And no one here tonight would want a racetrack next to them,” said Crownover, who moved to a townhouse in the Clarks Chapel community about 10 years ago.
Others, such as Roger Nelson, told the board of adjustment they would rather gamble on Talley not moving forward with the threatened practice course than see him operate under a cloak of county-granted legitimacy.
Don’t, in other words, grant Talley a variance reducing the 750-foot buffer zone to about 350 feet, which would enable him to add the necessary parking for a sanctioned course. Force him — if he really wants to punish the community for a ‘no’ vote — to open an unsanctioned practice course featuring virtually unhindered motorcycle use.
Not everyone agreed. Danny Baldwin, a nearby neighbor, endorsed Talley’s right to do anything he wants with his own land — including running motorcycles every day of the year, 24-hours at a time if he wants. So be it, because that’s his land and therefore his prerogative.
“That’s Bud Talley’s property, and he should be able to do that,” Baldwin said.
Macon County has few land-use regulations. But one they do have, no matter how weak it’s actually proving under fire, is an ordinance regulating high impact land uses. The ostensible purpose of the county’s law is to protect the welfare of residents by diminishing impacts of land uses that lead to noise, dust and so on, as opponent John Binkley pointed out.
“The direct impact zone is essentially a 400-foot band around the outside edge,” he said. “An analysis performed at my request by the county Land Records/GIS department showed that there are 49 tax parcels wholly or partly within the 400-foot band, of which most include residences.”
Binkley, who has surfaced as the primary force behind those opposing a dirt-bike racetrack being built in their community, argued a variance would create the following problems:
• Neighbors would lose enjoyment of their properties, through noise, dust and other pollutants: “This effect has special significance for certain of the neighbors … including (a) horse-breeding farm as well as retirees, in some cases with health concerns, who have invested a significant part of their savings in their homes with the expectation of a quiet and peaceful life in Macon County.”
• Negative traffic impacts would result. The rural roads in Clarks Chapel were not designed or built to ferry the amount of traffic that would result.
• Property values would decline: “… the loss of real-estate values would eventually come to be reflected in lower tax assessments and lower tax collections, reducing the county’s revenue.”
• Macon County’s economic future would suffer: “Approval of this variance … would send a strong signal out to the potential retiree market that Macon County is unwilling and/or unable to control the development of obnoxious activities that greatly reduce its attractiveness as a place for them to retire and live.”