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Decision on park bumped

City delays vote to study plan further

POSTED: February 18, 2009 4:00 a.m.
Photo/Tom Reed, regional staff/

Mayor Joe Lane Cox says the council "wants to do what's right."

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The decision to delay action on a proposed motorsports park in western Dawson County until at least April 13 was greeted with relief by those on both sides of the divisive issue.

  

West Hamryka, whose family owns a 70-acre horse farm adjacent to the proposed 152-acre Atlanta Motorsports Park, said he was “thrilled” with Dawsonville City Council’s 4-0 vote to table the matter Monday night.

  

“They did stop to think about it, and we are thrilled that they did stop to look at this (the sound study),” Hamryka said.

  

He contends his family’s horse business would suffer if the development is approved.

  

Developer Jeremy Porter said his group will “continue to pray and continue to take the high road, to state the facts.”

  

“I had a feeling it would be (tabled),” Porter said. “They need due process and a fair amount of time to review the information to make sure they are comfortable with it.”

  

The site, which borders Duck Thurmond Road and Ga. 53, would have a 2.77-mile track with several course configurations.

  

Members would pay between $2,000 and $35,000 to join the club, plus a monthly membership and per use fee allowing them to take high speed laps around the course. Several have signed up.

  

Hamryka’s attorney, Richard Wyngate, said there are several issues that need to be addressed, including a development of regional impact study, the results of a sound study and inconsistency in the city’s future land use and comprehensive plans.

  

Councilman Jonathan Cox said the sound study was a factor in the board’s decision, particularly since Porter waited until noon Monday to submit it.

  

There was just too much information to absorb in a short time, Cox said.

  

Mayor Joe Lane Cox agreed, recommending council hold off until the spring so city officials could review the sound study.

  

“I don’t feel like we have had ample time to make a decision on something so important,” he said, adding that he had received more than 500 e-mails for and against the project.

  

“We take our job seriously,” the mayor said. “I have laid awake at night thinking about this. We want to do what’s right.”

  

Monday’s meeting drew more than 200 people to the municipal complex.

  

City Attorney Dana Miles set the ground rules for the session, giving each side 30 minutes for presentation, followed by questions from council members.

  

Porter gave an overview of his new noise study and highlighted changes planned to bring noise levels down from an original 103 decibels to 98 decibels from the track’s outside edge.

  

Other changes include moving a portion of the course planned close to Ga. 53, extending natural sound barriers and using hay bales as a sound buffer.

  

Porter has said the track will not hold spectator events, thus needs no overhead lights or public address system. It would be a motorsports park, not a racetrack.

  

He has said that 85 percent of his members would be driving cars at between 65 and 80 decibels, or “the equivalent of a vacuum cleaner.”

  

Opponents say the track would generate much more noise.

  

Hours before Monday night’s meeting, dozens of protesters carrying signs gathered in the Food Lion parking lot near city hall to demonstrate against the park. One of the signs said, “Shhh! No loud racetrack.”

  

The site, west of downtown Dawsonville, was annexed into the city about two years ago.

  

If the rezoning is approved, Porter and his investors would buy the property from a group that includes members of the Bill Elliott family, long involved in NASCAR and other motorsports.

  

Elliott, who typically remains quiet on business ventures in the county, endorsed the project in a letter hand-delivered Monday night to Mayor Cox.

  

In it, the racing legend states the facility would provide jobs, increase business revenue and local tourism, as well as continue to promote the county’s motorsports heritage.

  

Citing fairness, Mayor Cox did not read the letter during the meeting. It was distributed to media and is available for public disclosure.

  

“In as much racing as our family has been involved in over the last 50 years we have been privy to numerous disputes among local communities and new racing facilities, and the bottom line is every case has always been that the positive impact of what the facility brings to the community far outweighs the negative,” Elliott wrote.

  

Noting the county’s 8.2 percent unemployment rate, local development authority director Charlie Auvermann said the project would have a positive impact for both the city and the county, creating jobs and boosting the tax base with a “high-end tourism project.”

  

Editor Stephanie Griffin and Harris Blackwood of the DCN regional staff contributed to this report.

  

E-mail Michele Hester at michele@dawsonnews.com.

 

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