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A local motocross race track has applied for a variance to the Grady County Land Use Regulations for three days in October and a public hearing that attracted a large number of citizens was held at the courthouse Tuesday morning.
Michigan Motor Cross d.b.a. Georgia Practice Facility (GPF) owner Raymond Woods appeared before the Grady County Commission Tuesday to make his case for the variance.
Woods is seeking relief from the hours of operation restrictions in the land use regulations as well as the noise level requirements.
Woods, who says he has been here for approximately 20 years, told county officials the event he plans to hold this fall would benefit riders who will be going on to college or a trade school in the future.
“We plan to produce an event that will be important to the growth of the sport and for the children involved in it,” Woods said.
The motocross facility owner says the proposed event would be held with support from the American Motorcycle Association and OnTrack Schools.
He explained that participants would have the opportunity to win cash prizes that could be banked to be used when they are old enough to attend college or enroll in a trade school.
According to Woods, many of the athletes involved in motocross will never make it to the upper level and many of them can “fall through the cracks.”
He told commissioners this week that he hopes that events like this one and others that would be held around the country would give “extreme athletes” the chance to earn a “little money for higher education or go to trade school.”
The track owner says parents of these athletes spend a lot of money for their children to be involved in the sport and that limits the money they have to pay for college expenses and other higher education related costs.
The dates of the proposed event would be Oct 4-6 and Woods is seeking to extend his hours of operation to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. However, he said there would be no racing after dark.
Woods also said that the motocross cycles today are “much quieter” than they were when the land use regulations were first enacted. In fact, Woods said he probably would not exceed the noise level requirements, but he did not want to assume that risk or have a large number of participants come to take part only to be shut down for noise level violations.
Instead of racing at night, Woods said he hopes to have events open to the community during the October dates. He suggested possibly a band performing on Friday night and some pit bike races.
“Sounds like something for everyone,” Commissioner Ray Prince commented.
Woods said that local residents would also pay lower fees to enter the grounds.
“The question I have is going until 10 p.m. Having lights on? Having a band? You’ve got to think of other people. I’m not negative, but we had a sporting clay range and got complaints all the time,” Commissioner June Knight said.
Woods said he did not anticipate the nighttime activities attracting a large crowd and noted that the riders would be having busy days and would be going to bed early. “No one wants to stay up all night,” Woods said.
Michelle Dean, owner of Pope Museum, asked how Woods plans to promote local lodging, restaurants and businesses to the event participants. Woods said he would put links to local firms on his website where participants enter as well as in all promotional materials if local businesses would offer event participants discounts during the three days.
Carry Bishop, a resident of Evergreen Lane, which is a neighbor of GPF, located on Bold Springs Road, voiced his opposition to the variance. Bishop predicted other motocross track operators would seek variances if one is issued to Woods.
Bishop said the noise at the track is bad enough now with only 10 to 15 riders, but Woods said he often has 40 riders at a time now so that the noise would not be any greater.
Belinda Johnson, also an Evergreen Lane resident, questioned what type of infrastructure improvements would be involved. She said if permanent improvements were planned that could be only justified by Woods hosting additional events.
Woods said he did not anticipate hosting more than one event of this type per year and if he did, he would have to apply for another variance.
Johnson also questioned if there is sufficient law enforcement to provide security and monitor an event as is planned. County officials said if the event drew as many people as Mule Day or Rattlesnake Roundup, additional law enforcement would be needed and Woods would be required to pay for that additional cost, not the county.
Charlene Bishop of Evergreen Lane directed comments to the county commission. “None of you were on the board when they first came in. We were all told they just wanted it for their son to practice. We told the commissioners over and over that’s not what they’re doing. We finally came to a compromise with these regulations and living with it peacefully.”
However, she noted that several of her neighbors had left due to the noise from the motocross. She said that many of the benefits that were talked about had not come to pass. “My taxes went up and my property values went down. I find it very hard to believe this is a one time thing,” she said.
Austin LeGette, a Cairo High School faculty member, commended Woods for trying to promote higher education, but she questioned where participants would park. She said she did not want people parking or going on her property. She also described the noise from the track on a regular basis as a “wasp nest in your head.” Woods said he had sufficient land to accommodate all of the parking needs that is projected. He also said the noise is not constant, but LeGette responded, “it’s all day.”
Charles Harrell, a resident of the Deer Lake community, said that none of the commissioners live near motocross facilities so it does not affect them. “Imagine if it were held at the Cairo airport, would you feel differently?” he asked. Harrell invited the commissioners to his home to listen to it all day. He also said anyone who thought such events would be an economic boon to the county were “naive.”
Peter Wright of Stephens Road, also spoke out against the variance. Wright suggested to approve the variance only hurts those who live nearby. “The camel is already in the tent and wreaking havoc,” Wright said.
Betty Godwin, of Pine Park Road, insisted Wood’s variance application is contrary to the purpose and intent of the regulation. Godwin said in the past the voice of the public had been ignored and she urged commissioners to vote in accordance with the will of the people.
Grady County Administrator J.C. (Buddy) Johnson III, indicated it would likely be some time in August before the board would vote on the variance request and he said that the public would be notified prior to the final vote.
After the conclusion of the pubic hearing on the variance application, the commission opened the floor to public comment.
Former county commissioner and local realtor Charles Renaud told commissioners that listening to the discussion regarding the variance reminded him of past debates. “We don’t plan for growth and that falls on y’all. The next thing coming is coming,” Renaud said.
Last time, Renaud said it was motocross that was coming and after it was here the county passed ordinances that did not make sense trying to stop something that was already here.
“Let’s start planning where things should go and shouldn’t go. Where infrastructure should go. We’ve been dancing around this ant bed for a long time. It’s up to y’all to take us to the next step,” Renaud said.