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Thornburg caution flag

December 9, 2012 12:11 am

THE PROPOSAL to bring a motor speedway to a still-rural corner of Spotsylvania County is bound to stir strong feelings both ways. Agreement on that point is all that's certain. King Solomon, call your office.

For now, the proper course is to listen, study, and ruminate on the idea, which obliges county leaders to keep their minds and eyes open. Two months after the plan was broached, and ahead of public hearings yet to be set, the goal should be neutrality as pure as human willpower allows. The pros and cons are a long way from being sorted out. A "community information meeting" Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Ramada Inn at 5324 Jefferson Davis Highway may prove enlightening.

Certainly this proposal is a big deal on every level imaginable. Land adjacent to interstate highways is high-octane fuel for a community's economic-development engine. This project, which would cost between $10 million and $12 million, would have a lasting impact wherever it's built.

Here's the situation: Steve Britt, principal owner of Old Dominion Speedway, now located in Manassas, is under contract to buy 160 acres at the northeastern corner of Interstate 95's Exit 118 at Old Mudd Tavern Road in Thornburg. The reincarnated operation would become Dominion Raceway. The transaction hinges on Spotsylvania's decision to grant a rezoning and a special-use permit for the racetrack.

The speedway would be built for various sorts of racing, and the site would be suitable for festivals, concerts, and other special events.

Such a facility would no doubt generate development beyond its boundaries. Mr. Britt said he likes the site because of its location in the county's Jackson Gateway corridor, designated for office and industrial growth rather than residential development. The area, now green and undeveloped--"pristine," if you want to get romantic--would be changed forever.

Of course, development of some sort is inevitable at an available site near an interchange. Spotsylvania officials are acutely aware of the need to offset service-using development with the income-producing sort. The same tough questions apply no matter the project envisioned or its location: What are the environmental impacts? Are neighbors' views about safety, noise, and traffic congestion well-founded or avatars of the grouchy god NIMBY? Is a particular sort of development "right" for a given area?

With Mr. Britt and his local supporters on one side and the Coalition to Preserve the Thornburg Countryside on the other, the clash of opinions is already getting revved up. Spotsylvania officials should prepare themselves for some objective officiating. Prejudgment either way is, well, the pits.

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