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Feelings mixed on speedway plan

October 19, 2012 12:10 am

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Jerry Sklar's farm in Thornburg offers panoramic views of fall foliage this time of year. He put a conservation easement on it to ensure the land will never be developed. lo101912speedway2.jpg

Caretaker Tommy Toney (left) and Jerry Sklar are worried about the impact a proposed racetrack might have on Sklar's 630-acre farm in Thornburg. They fear the track will drive away wildlife and scare their cattle.

BY BILL FREEHLING

The Old Dominion Speedway's planned relocation to Thornburg has been greeted with enthusiasm from racing fans, but people who own property near the proposed site have mixed feelings.

Steve Britt, principal owner of the Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, is under contract to purchase 160 acres on the northeast corner of the Thornburg interchange off Interstate 95. The sale is contingent on various government approvals, including a rezoning and special-use permit from Spotsylvania County.

Britt hopes to open the Dominion Raceway there in the spring of 2014. The roughly $10 million facility would include an oval track for stock-car racing, a drag strip and a road course. Britt wants to create a racing-focused entertainment complex that could also be used year-round for festivals, concerts, karting, collector car auctions, drive-in movies and other special events. There will be pad sites for additional businesses wishing to co-locate there.

Some nearby property owners are excited about the facility's potential to create jobs, boost county tax revenue, attract tourists, foster additional commercial development and create more business for hotels, eateries and gas stations already in that area.

But others are concerned that the track's noise and lights would destroy the rural character of a farming community along Mudd Tavern and Stonewall Jackson roads in Spotsylvania and Caroline counties. They also worry that the raceway might drive down property values and lead to traffic jams along I-95, as well as on the two-lane road serving as the raceway's main entrance.

Jerry Sklar and Tommy Toney are as concerned as anyone about the raceway. Since 1983, Sklar has lived on a 630-acre cattle farm in Caroline and Spotsylvania that is right next to where the raceway is proposed. Toney has been taking care of the property for 40 years.

About seven years ago, Sklar put a conservation easement on the property to ensure it could never be developed. A recent visit to the quiet farm revealed an array of wildlife, vast pastures and panoramic views of fall foliage.

"It would be a shame to destroy the pristine nature of what we have here," Sklar said.

Toney worries that the raceway will drive away the wildlife, pollute the nearby Po River and perhaps frighten the cattle. He hopes that if the development is approved, a border fence and significant buffer will be required.

Another area resident who wished to remain anonymous echoed similar thoughts. He said neighbors feel the same way and asked that Spotsylvania officials carefully consider all aspects of the proposal before giving it the green light.

Others who live and work in the area are more enthusiastic.

Brent Elam, who lives in Caroline near the Stonewall Jackson Shrine and commutes past the site daily, believes traffic from the raceway will be mostly during off-peak hours and thinks the facility could provide jobs for his friends and family.

Rusty Foley, a real estate broker trying to sell more than 1,000 acres in the area for the Orrock family, said he thinks the raceway will be good for the region, but is unsure what effect it will have on property values.

Nirav Mehta is all for it. He is a part-owner and general manager of the Quality Inn and Holiday Inn Express at the Thornburg exit and thinks the raceway would give the area in general and his properties specifically a significant boost.

W.J. Vakos & Co., a developer that owns much of the land around the Thornburg interchange, is supporting the tax-generating and jobs-producing project, said President Bill Vakos III.

Spotsylvania has designated that area--the so-called Jackson Gateway--for future office and industrial growth, not residential development. Britt picked the property in part because he didn't foresee large residential communities cropping up around the raceway.

That's what happened in Manassas, where the Old Dominion Speedway has been for more than 60 years. The track is now hemmed in by residents who frequently complain about the noise. Britt is under contract to sell the 40-acre Manassas site to a home developer. He believes that noise from I-95 will drown out some of the sounds coming from the proposed Thornburg raceway.

Charlie Payne, an attorney for Britt, is working on submitting the rezoning application to Spotsylvania officials. In the coming months, public hearings will be held on the matter in front of the county's Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, offering all sides an opportunity to voice their opinions in front of elected officials.

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405
Email: bfreehling@freelancestar.com





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