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Go-cart track rumors stir debate

By Catherine Godbey
cgodbey@decaturdaily.com · 340-2441

Rumors of a possible go-cart and lawn mower racing facility at the Morgan County Fairgrounds perplex Sonny Wright.

The chairman of the Tennessee Valley Exposition, commonly referred to as the Morgan County Fair board, discounted such reports.

“We did start construction on a pit for a better facility for the demolition derby at the fair ... but I just heard of the lawn mower racing (Wednesday),” he said. “I don’t know how that talk got started.”

Councilman Ronny Russell, however, suspects the Exposition is contemplating more elaborate activities on the property.

Concerned Oak Lea residents alerted Russell to the construction activity at a recent neighborhood meeting. At the time, Russell was unaware of the situation, but following the meeting, he received more information about the project.

The Building and Planning departments notified Russell that construction of an outdoor venue was taking place without the permission of the Board of Zoning Adjustment.

Decatur’s zoning ordinance, overseen by BOZA, requires property owners to file an appeal requesting approval for activities. The Exposition filed no such appeal before beginning construction.

The Building Department investigated the site after receiving complaints from citizens about ongoing earthwork, said Building Director Jimmy Brothers. The unauthorized construction led the department to issue a stop-work order Aug. 8.

In response to the stop-work order, Wright filed an application seeking a permit to host agricultural exhibits, entertainment and sports events.

“The application can be construed awfully broadly,” Brothers said. “After Tuesday’s meeting, we should have an idea what the scope of activity is.”

Demolition derby

Wright says he is only seeking approval to build a pit for the demolition derby, which features drivers crashing their cars into the cars of other contestants. Returning to the fair after its inaugural year in 2006, the demolition pit will resemble last year’s site, which measured 70 by 150 feet. The demolition derby is scheduled Sept. 22.

The Exposition leases the fairgrounds from the State Products Mart Authority of Morgan County. Tom Caddell, attorney for Products Mart, said his client knew nothing of the recent construction activity, but applauded the Exposition’s past accountability record, referring to them as “extremely conscientious.”

BOZA has the authority to approve or deny the construction. Under the fairgrounds’ zoning as an agricultural district, entertainment and recreation venues are permitted as long as BOZA sanctions the project. The board will base its decision on how the project will impact surrounding neighborhoods.

Russell believes if the Exposition is considering a permanent racetrack, it will negatively affect the community. During events currently held at the fairgrounds, Russell believes, both noise complaints and reported crimes increase.

Jerry and Ada Walker, who moved to Decatur six months ago from California, hope the rumors of a lawn mower and go-cart track are untrue.

“This can’t happen. It must not happen,” Jerry Walker stressed. “The quality of life is going to go down and air pollution is going to go up.”

In addition to the annual fair, the fairgrounds rents out the buildings and hosts the Daikin Festival and tool shows. Under the zoning ordinance, each of these events requires a permit from BOZA.

Besides the fair, the Daikin Festival is the only event that obtained a permit, Brothers said. Ultimately, it is the property owner’s responsibility to apply for the permit.

BOZA will hear the Exposition’s request for approval and public comments at a meeting Tuesday at 4 p.m.

“We hope to find out about activities that have nothing to do with the fair and get a better understanding of the use of the property beyond the fair,” Brothers said.

Russell urged his constituents to attend the meeting and voice their concerns.

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