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Halifax planners give thumb-down to racetrack restoration

South Boston News
Scott Phillips speaks in support of the proposed racetrack at a meeting of Halifax County planners. / February 22, 2018
Mark Ather, who wants to open a motorsports track and entertainment venue in Nathalie, vowed to take whatever legal action is necessary after the Halifax County Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to deny his conditional use permit application.

The planners’ vote is not the final say on the matter; their recommendation will go to the Halifax County Board of Supervisors, which must approve the permit.

The track is located on a 7.63-acre parcel of land at 3019 Cody Road, in the Republican Grove area. According to the conditional use permit application, Ather wants to operate a go-cart rental for kids, as well as sponsor go cart racing, tractor pulls, four-wheeler flat track racing, and some “automobile things too.”

According to a publication called “Gentlemen Start Your Engines!” The History of Racing in Halifax County, compiled in 2001 by the South Boston-Halifax County Historical Museum, the original track at the site was called the 501 Speedway. It opened in July 1957 on property owned by Dawson Guthrie in Republican Grove.

Ather is also working to reopen a corner store that was part of the old track, and sell NASCAR memorabilia. According to Ather, “this (track) will give local children something to do and look forward to.”

During the public hearing, Scott Phillips, a friend of Ather’s who lives about 15 miles from the proposed facility, spoke in support of the idea. He said the reopened track would be a great way to bring people together from surrounding areas.

County residents Dennis Clay and Tom Fennimore also expressed support for the facility, but Fennimore strongly urged that no alcohol be allowed and that protective rails or cushions be installed to protect onlookers.

Dexter Gilliam, past chair of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce and current chair of the Halifax County Service Authority, urged the Commissioners to consider the “match between location and purpose” — a match he believes does not exist. Gilliam presented a petition in opposition signed by 165 residents who live within a three-mile radius of the proposed track.

Although Gilliam owns a piece of property in the area of interest, he does not live there.

Shannon Burton, deacon chair for the First Baptist Church of Republican Grove, voiced her concerns about noise during worship services, funerals or weddings, as well as the increased trash and traffic such a facility would cause.

County resident Bernard Mitzler also voiced concerns about increased trash problems, which he said already exist in Cody. He suggested that South Boston Speedway is the appropriate location for the proposed activities.

Although Ather represented that the Methodist church located next to his property fully supports his plans, Betty Sue Dawson, a member of the church, contradicted Ather, saying that not all members supported the plan. Ather agreed that some members were opposed but the pastor, who does not live near the property, was supportive.

Sherman Fisher, a resident of Republican Grove, stated he was “not 100 percent against the proposed track, but 150 percent against it.” Fisher said there were problems with trash and noise which helped lead to the track’s closing sixty years ago.

Ather attempted to respond to the various concerns and objections by reiterating the purpose of the track as a family-oriented, community-gathering place. He pledged to allow the fire department or any of the local churches to use the track and facilities for fundraising purposes, and vowed to clean up trash and work around church schedules so as not to conflict with events.

Commissioner Bruce Pearce questioned Ather about dust control and Planning Chairman Jim Davis wanted to know if Ather had met with the Baptist church across the street from the property. Ather replied he had not.

Commissioner Ray Waller corrected the record by stating there were, in fact, three churches close to the proposed racetrack, and that “due to opposition from neighbors and being close to churches, he recommended denying the application.”

Upon a motion being made and seconded, the Planning Commission voted 8-0 to deny the permit application.

After the hearing, Ather expressed his feeling that “he was not getting an impartial hearing and will do whatever it takes to make things right.”

The Board of Supervisors will take up the Planning Commission’s recommendations at a public hearing on March 5.

In other business, the Planning Commission unanimously approved a conditional use permit for Fallen Lawn Care and Repair Shop at 2060 Wolf Trap Road in South Boston.

Applicant Robert G. Fallen III plans to operate a lawn care business with sale of mulch and landscape supplies as well as raise and sell produce, and sell craft items. Future expansion includes revitalizing an existing small engine repair shop on the property.

Fallen also plans to build a family home on the property.

No one offered opposition to the proposed application. Commissioner Mattie Cowan stated that, “Fallen has fixed things up since buying the property, enhancing the location, and adding a lot to the community.” Cowen moved to approve the application, which was seconded and approved by an 8-0 vote.

During an uneventful public hearing for a conditional use permit submitted by Alton Post Office Solar, LLC, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the application.

Detrick Easley, Planning Commission administrator, represented that Urban Grid has submitted all necessary documents and met all requirements under the Halifax County Solar Ordinance. In addition, a decommissioning bond has been set for $2,300,925.

Urban Grid hosted a community meeting on November 29, 2017 at Turbeville Ruritan Club.

Urban Grid proposes to install an 80-megawatt solar energy facility on 502 acres owned by Helen T. Thomason, Ginger R. Tulloh, and Deborah T. Allen, near the intersection of Hendricks Road and Alton Post Office Road.

During the public hearing, Roger Bowers, attorney for Urban Grid, reviewed the proposed project and Trevor Buckley, landscape planner for Timmons Group, presented the highlights of the landscaping plan.

The sole objection was made by an adjacent landowner Wesley Woodlow, who said the solar farm would be an eyesore, prevent the movement of wildlife through the property, and drain jobs from North Carolina power plants where some Halifax residents work.

Commissioner Rosemary Ramsey recommended approval of the application with the stipulation that there would be a 100-foot setback along Alton Post Office Road, and a 25-foot buffer zone. Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend approval by the Board of Supervisors.

Under new business, the Board of Supervisors requested that two solar applications from Carolina Solar be reviewed in March: Sunnybrook Creek Farm Solar LLC, a 51-megawatt facility in Clays Mill, and Powell’s Solar Farm, LLC, a 50-megawatt facility on Alton Post Office Road.

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This is the reason that no one wants to come to Halifax, when something fun comes along the county shoots it down.


The local news says Halifax County is part of the drought's not a drought that we are seeing, it's just the county drying up and shriveling away. Businesses do not want to relocate or open in our county because every little thing is opposed and for the most minor reasoning. Society needs to get away from this "if one person complains then we have to make them happy" thinking. "Problems with trash and noise which helped lead to the track’s closing sixty years ago," well if it was an issue then, it definitely would have to still be the same issue 60 years later with a new owner! Halifax, keep turning away businesses and the people of the county will continue to go to Lynchburg, Danville, Raleigh, Durham, even Roxboro in search of entertainment and to spend their money and those localities will continue to grow and prosper using our money while our county keeps shrinking and not have the funds to improve what we already can't keep up with.


I'm curious to know what the response would be from the public if this proposal was for a location on North Main Street near 3 churches. Like the statement was made - location and purpose need to match.


If they had the money to buy the houses and were willing to invest I would say go ahead. These things will take place after church hours.

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