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Halifax County supervisors withhold action on motorsports permit

South Boston News
A large crowd on Monday night gathered to hear the discussion about Mark Ather’s request for a permit to allow for a race track and entertainment center in the North Halifax community. (SOMcL photo) / March 08, 2018
Halifax County supervisors agreed Monday night to indefinitely postpone consideration of a motorsports complex in Republican Grove at the site of a defunct 1950s-era racetrack.

Supervisors declined to take action on a request for a conditional use permit by Mark Ather, who is proposing to open a racing and entertainment complex at an earlier race track, which enjoyed a run in business after opening in 1957. The old track is located at 3019 Cody Road.

The board’s decision came after a nearly hour-long public hearing in which nine people spoke out against the project, while four spoke in favor of it.

One of the speakers, Dexter Gilliam, whose son and family live nearby the site, presented a petition signed by 197 people who oppose the project.

Ather has indicated to the Board of Supervisors that he wants to operate go-cart rentals for kids, as well as sponsor go-cart racing, tractor pulls, four-wheeler flat track racing, and some “automobile things too.”

One speaker, Shawn Burton, said the deacons of her church oppose the track because of the close proximity and the concern that the noise will interfere with weddings and funerals.

Barbara Poindexter also expressed her concern that the proposed complex is too close to her church Republican Grove Baptist Church.

Thomas Bross, who owns property next door to the proposed track, said he is 150 percent against the proposed operation. He said he has lived there for the past 30 years and enjoys sitting on his porch where he sees deer and turkeys almost nightly. Bross said real property values in the community will go down if the venture is allowed to go forward.

Betty Sue Dawson told supervisors, “this is a bad fit for the area,” a remark that was echoed by several other speakers.

During his turn at the speaker’s podium, Ather asked the board for more time to talk to those who oppose the track in order to answer their questions. Ather lamented what he said were many misconceptions about the project. At the age of 60, Ather said he wants to retire in the community and hopes to revive the local economy by reopening the track site. He also said he is anxious to give local youths something to do and enjoy.

ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis responded that he and others have been working with school trustees to offer more recreational opportunities, perhaps at Sydnor Jennings Elementary School.

Davis said he had analyzed Ather’s plans for the track and suggested it would host eight events each month. In order for him to support the proposal, Davis said he would have to see a complete business plan such as those offered by South Boston Speedway and VIR.

The business plan, Davis said, would need to include an executive summary, profile of the owners, including financial statements and a market analysis. He said the county would also need a spreadsheet with five-year projections of annual ticket sales, expenses, land development, revenues, insurance and the cost of utilities.

Davis told Ather that his request would not come back before the board until he had completed a thorough market study of the need for such a facility.

“It (the request for a CUP) will not come back to this board until you have completed a comprehensive plan and marketing study,” Davis told Ather.

In other business, Supervisors heard from Kenneth Martin and VDOT Transportation Preservation program manager Antony Opperman regarding plans for the future of Clarkton Bridge.

Supervisors approved a Memorandum of Agreement developed by VDOT which prescribes the determination of the disposition of the Clarkton Bridge and what role the county will play in its future.

The MOA will allow VDOT to move forward with removal of the bridge which is expected to be completed by January 2019 or perhaps earlier.

Martin told supervisors that the historic old bridge is in terrible condition that doesn’t allow people to go on it. The bridge has outlived its useful life, he said, and interpretative signs will be placed at the site.

Halifax County Administrator Jim Halasz recommended waiting until the demolition is complete to decide if the county wants to take over any structural parts of the old bridge, perhaps for historical purposes or adaptive reuse.

In other business, Barbara Bass, president of the Halifax County Historical Society, asked for tax forgiveness of $101 on two parcels of land which contain the Society’s Crossing of the Dan Exhibit below The Prizery.

Bass advised supervisors that it had been brought to her attention that the property had not been properly deeded to the Society a few years ago, but she had only recently been notified of the problem.

She asked that the collection agency which had been tasked with collecting delinquent taxes on the parcels had said they would waive the fees except for $5.76 if the property was properly donated to the Society.

On a 5-3 vote, the board approved the request. Finance Chairman J. T. Davis, ED-3 Supervisor Hubert Pannell and ED-6 Supervisor Stanley Brandon opposed the gift.

In other business Monday night, Supervisors approved the county’s Solar PV Building Permit fee schedule;

approved the County’s participation in the Meadville Road Housing Rehabilitation Program through the Department of Housing and Community Development;

delayed taking any action on the requests of local residential builders to seek a tax break on the construction of new homes until after the upcoming year’s budget is finalized;

pledged $35,000 along with other agencies— the higher education center, the Town of South Boston and the Chamber of Commerce — to update the Vision 20/20 Plan;

reappointed Denise Hudson, Bruce Pearce, Dick Conner and Ronnie Ratliff to continue their work on the Agriculture Development advisory committee, Supervisors also reappointed to Matt Leonard to remain on the DCC Community College Advisory Board and named Quame Lambert to replace Tabitha Burton on the Recreational Advisory Committee.

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A complete business plan by VIR and South Boston Speedway has never been submitted to the county. This shows the lack of background knowledge Supervisor Davis has towards their respective approvals. South Boston Speedway is grandfathered as predates zoning in the County. VIR was issued a Conditional Use Permit but it was based on site plans and a general business plan narrative, not market study or a pro forma. Camp Motorsport voluntarily agreed to adhere to certain decibels levels at the property line and had a site plan and business narrative. NO WHERE and i repeat no where in the Code of Halifax County does it require such details as Supervisor Davis is demanding such as a market study. His comments to the applicant at the conclusion of the public hearing were shameful & disgraceful for an elected official. Mr. Ather is the applicant and his district constituent, the man deserved to be treated fairly and given a chance to open his business.

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