Planners deadlock on Ivor dirt track

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 14, 2008

COURTLAND—They came from all over Hampton Roads to show their support for Mr. T.Dirt – bike enthusiasts from Smithfield, quad-riders from Chesapeake, even a few neighbors from the Ivor area.

They all spoke out Thursday in favor of a dirt track and trails for motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles at Mr. T’s Hunt Club on New Road. But even the favorable comments of a Planning Commission member who had patronized the track when it was operating illegally were unable to sway commissioners to support Tony Scodes’ attempt to get his facility on the right side of Southampton County’s zoning laws.

Following more than two hours of public comment and discussion amongst planners, the county’s advisory commission deadlocked on whether to approve a rezoning and conditional use permit that would allow operation of a dirt track on 55 acres of Scodes’ property. Under state law, the tie vote results in a default recommendation from the commission that the Board of Supervisors deny the request, Assistant County Administrator Jay Randolph said at the end of the discussion Thursday night.

Supervisors will hold their own public hearing on the request, but they are likely to consider a slightly different application than did the Planning Commission, as Scodes offered Thursday night to limit the uses that would be allowed under his industrial zoning to just the track.

Plenty of speakers were on hand to praise Scodes and his efforts to provide a safe environment for motocross rides. Members of the Tidewater Dirt Riders group had been encouraged on an Internet chat board to attend the meeting and show their support, and several spoke up Thursday in favor of granting the necessary industrial zoning classification and conditional use permit.

June Jones of Smithfield said she had just recently joined the club and had wanted to be able to ride in “a nice, quiet, peaceful environment,” qualities that Mr. T’s possessed. “This isn’t Busch Gardens,” she said. “This isn’t loud, major noise.”

Donnie McMillan, a Chesapeake resident who had patronized the track before it was shut down as an illegal operation, agreed. He works at Oceana Naval Air Station, he said. “If you want to hear noise, come to my office.”

Several local residents also spoke on Scodes’ behalf.

“This is a great place to take your child to run, to ride,” Courtland resident Jeff Dodson said. “It’s a great atmosphere for people.”

Andrew Vick, who lives across New Street from the entrance to Mr. T’s, said traffic going into the farm had never been an issue and called the track “a fun, family environment.”

Opponents, however, complained about the noise, the traffic and the fact that Scodes has flouted zoning laws and even a court order by building and operating the track.

“I bought my land here to live in peace,” said Ricky Roberts, who lives about a half-mile away from the property. “We pay taxes, we vote. We shouldn’t have to worry about something like this.”

“The noise is a very big issue,” agreed Gordon Calhoun, who breeds horses on a farm about a mile south of Scodes’ property.

But Mr. T’s scofflaw attitude for the past few years seemed to be the biggest point of concern for many who opposed the proposed zoning changes.

“This gentleman has not regarded the law,” Florence Reynolds said. “What makes you think he’s going to adhere to the law [by prohibiting racing, certain noise levels and late riding] this time?”

Scodes signed a Circuit Court consent order in 2003 agreeing not to build or operate a track on his property without first getting proper zoning. Almost immediately he began construction, and riders were known to use the facility on Saturdays and Sundays between 2003 and 2007 for a fee that ranged from $15 to $20 each.

Police served a search warrant on the facility in November, and in March a judge found him in contempt of court for violating the consent order.

Referring to the long legal history — and Scodes’ apparent disregard for past legal rulings — Diane Kropewnicki asked, “Do you really think he will abide by the terms of a conditional use permit or a proffer?”

As reflected in their vote, commissioners were evenly divided on whether to support Scodes’ application. But one surprising moment came when a speaker exposed Commissioner Doug Chesson as an occasional patron of the track during its operation in contravention of the county’s zoning laws.

An unrepentant Chesson said he had visited Mr. T’s twice. Then, he not only voted in favor of approving the application; he spoke up in support of the owner and his vision.

“It’s a good, family place,” he said. “I was impressed. It’s good recreation for families and kids.”