Planners to limit use of embattled Ivor track

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 14, 2008

COURTLAND—The Southampton County Planning Commission gets one more chance Thursday to steer the fate of a controversial Ivor-area racetrack with a history of running afoul of the law.

Commissioners will consider what limitations to place on the dirt track proposed for 55 acres of a 238-acre property off of New Road. Their recommendations then will be passed along to the county’s Board of Supervisors for a final decision on the track’s fate.

Supervisors last month approved a conditional rezoning that opened the door for the track’s legal operation, but they asked the Planning Commission to develop a set of restrictions to guide the conditional use permit that is necessary before applicant Tony Scodes can legally run the track.

Thursday’s meeting will include no public hearing, only a discussion among commissioners. In fact, a memorandum to members from Assistant County Administrator Jay Randolph makes it clear that they are not even being asked to weigh in on the issue of whether a permit should be granted. Instead, the discussion Thursday will be aimed at developing a list of conditions to anchor the permit.

“As guidance, the Board has suggested that the Planning Commission look at possible conditions including, but not limited to, an earthen berm to help deflect the noise from adjoining properties,” he states in his memorandum. “Additionally, they asked the Planning Commission to consider stipulations that would allow course riding, but not racing.”

Whether to call the facility a racetrack or a “motorcycle/ATV dirt-riding track” was a topic that consumed a large portion of supervisors’ discussion following a lengthy public hearing in July.

Newsoms District Supervisor Walt D. Brown III led the push to try to limit the activities on the track by changing what it’s called.

“This is not a racetrack,” he said. “The semantics of this is very confusing.”

The objection to classifying the establishment as a “racetrack” was a common refrain for supporters during July’s public hearing, but opponents were equally focused on their own complaint: There is no room in a rural residential area for the kind of noise generated by the track, they said, whether it’s used for racing or not.

Another important issue for opponents was Scodes’ apparent disregard for the laws that had been intended to prohibit him from operating a track without county approval.

Following up on neighbors’ complaints last fall, police found that Scodes was operating the track in violation of a 2003 court-brokered consent decree, which itself resulted when Scodes was caught running the track without the proper zoning permits.

Between 2003 and the fall of 2007, opponents said, Scodes allowed hundreds of riders to use the track he built on his 238-acre New Road property. Many of them spoke out on his behalf during July’s two-hour public hearing.

He finally stopped operating the facility after the police raid, and he sought the latest round of county approvals as a result of a contempt-of-court ruling issued by a judge in March for Scodes’ violation of the consent decree.

Following their own public hearing in June, planners deadlocked 3-3 on whether to grant the rezoning and conditional use permit. Under state law, that deadlocked vote went to the Board of Supervisors as a default recommendation that the request be denied.

Supervisors, however, voted 4-2 in favor of allowing the rezoning from agricultural to conditional limited industrial, with the only allowed industrial use being the operation of a racetrack.

They were unable to agree on limitations for the conditional use permit, however, and sent the matter back to the commission for its recommendation.

That group meets at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the board room at the county’s administrative complex.