Life got a little harder last week for anyone wanting to construct a commercial motorcross track in Surry County.
That’s because of a change to the county zoning ordinance which came about after a local resident tried to do just that, expressing a desire to convert such a track from personal use to a commercial operation.
The Surry County Board of Commissioners voted to accept the change, after holding what turned into a more-than-three-hour public hearing.
The board adopted the amendment which came about after Tim Sawyers, who lives near Ararat, asked for a permit to operate a motorcross track, according to Kim Bates, Surry County planning director.
Sawyers, according to Bates, has been gradually building a motorcross track on his property there over the past couple of years for personal use.
The planning official said there was no problem with such a development.
“He built his track without asking for any sort of guidance or if it would be permitted for county zoning, ostensibly for personal use,” Bates said. “The way it generally happens, we let folks do what they want for recreational use on their own land. The usual threshold of becoming subject to county regulation is when you want to turn it into a business.”
When Sawyers asked for a permit for that purpose late last year, Bates found there was no specific zoning regulations for a motor cross track — it was treated the same as a traditional car racing track or dragstrip.
“I allowed him to apply for a general outdoor recreational conditional use permit,” Bates said. “The planning board decided that was too lenient.”
The board and Bates’ staff then developed a proposal to define motorcross tracks differently than regular auto racing tracks or dragstrips, with its own set of guidelines. Among those are limiting such uses to the RB, CB, and HB business districts as well as the MI industrial district; obtaining a conditional use permit; setback requirements that Bates said are more stringent than regular tracks or dragstrips; and having a lot of at least 15 acres in size for such a facility.
The planning board recommended approval of this proposed amendment to the county zoning ordinance, and the board of commissioners accepted their recommendation — with one exception.
The commissioners made the minimum lot size requirement 40 acres, disqualifying Sawyer’s land from consideration.
That vote came after the three-hour hearing, during which a number of area residents spoke.
Bates said the public had already begun sharing its input, with several complaints registered with his office over the track since Sawyers finished work on the full development.
According to Bates, Sawyers still has the right to appeal the decision, but he’s received no word on any potential appeal.