County to settle track suit

Published 10:26 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2008

COURTLAND—A group of Ivor-area residents on Monday may have won its fight to block a proposed dirt track for motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.

Following a lengthy private discussion about a lawsuit against Southampton County, the Board of Supervisors voted to have its attorney seek a settlement with the opposition group.

By a 4-2 margin, with one track supporter absent for health reasons, the board directed County Attorney Richard Railey Jr. and County Administrator Michael Johnson to enter into settlement discussions with Woodrow Crook. Crook represents the 16 residents and property owners who sued the county following supervisors’ decision to grant a conditional rezoning for the 55-acre track.

“Basically they said, ‘Settle this; we don’t want to go to court,’” Johnson said Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 27 in Southampton County Circuit Court, contests a July board decision to grant a conditional rezoning for the property, calling that action “an arbitrary and capricious exercise of legislative power constituting illegal spot zoning.”

Johnson said Railey was to have contacted Crook on Tuesday to begin the negotiations. The breakdown of Monday’s vote, he said, should send Crook and the plaintiffs in the case a strong message about the racetrack’s future — or lack of it — in Ivor.

Monday’s 4-2 vote made it clear that the board now lacks the votes to approve a conditional-use permit that would be necessary to allow the track to operate legally. In an apparent change of heart regarding the issue, Boykins District Supervisor Carl J. Faison joined the majority in seeking to end the lawsuit.

Faison had joined the 4-2 majority that gave the initial nod to the track in July. During the same meeting, though, supervisors postponed a vote on granting the conditional use permit.

Without that permit, Tony Scodes, who owns the farm in question and illegally operated a track there until police raided the property last fall, stands in “legal limbo,” Johnson said Monday.

Since the board approved Scodes’ request for a conditional industrial rezoning with only one specified or allowed use—and since it is now unlikely that Scodes can get the necessary conditional use permit—that portion of his farm cannot legally be used for anything at this point, he explained.

“He’s stuck right now,” Johnson said. “Frankly we’ve put him there.”

Changing the property’s zoning designation back to agricultural would require another set of public hearings at both the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors levels, he added, and supervisors will have to address Scodes’ situation after settling the lawsuit with the opposition group.

Newsoms District Supervisor Walt Brown and Jerusalem District Supervisor Anita Felts voted against the motion to settle the suit. Brown, who has firmly supported the track throughout the rezoning process, took the opportunity Monday to defend his votes.

“When I voted in favor of this, I did not consider this to be an illegal spot zoning, because it was conditional,” he said. “We need to go forward and fight this suit.”

No other board members made public comments about their positions on Monday. Faison, whose new position effectively closes the door on the racetrack, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Johnson said Monday that the county attorney already had drafted a response to the track opponents’ lawsuit. That response would have been due Thursday, but Railey would have needed the board’s direction to file it with the court.

Supervisors’ decision to back away from supporting the track would make such a response unnecessary.