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Extreme sports park on planning board agenda

Spec art for the Whitehouse Extreme Sports Park.

Spec art for the Whitehouse Extreme Sports Park.

Staff Writer

After a four-month-long struggle, Whitehouse Extreme Sports Park is expected to receive a planning board recommendation at tonight’s meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the James W. Warren Citizens Center auditorium.

First proposed in September, the park would host a Junior Olympic swimming pool, basketball and volleyball courts and meeting space for students looking to train as they study. Its primary focus, though, would be to train motocross and BMX athletes, and the noise level that comes with motocross bikes has nearby neighbors concerned.

Brittan Schnell, a former NASCAR team owner, plans on opening the facility for his 14-year-old son, Brantley, a nationally competitive motocross racer. Students would enroll in middle school, high school and collegiate classes through Liberty University’s Online Academy.

For 39 years, the facility was under White House Foods ownership. It employed as many as 240 workers at one time and used Lincoln County apples to manufacture applesauce, apple juice and vinegar, before closing up and moving to Virginia in 2009.

Aside from Schnell’s The Special Event Linen Company, the facility has sat mostly vacant since, a quiet space residents of nearby Hickory Grove have come to enjoy.

Complaints over the proposal came at a community meeting later in September, and when the issue finally made its way to commissioners and planning board members on Dec. 7, a heavy majority of public comments were made opposing the park’s construction.

Schnell said as many as 40-50 bikes could be on the track at any particular time, and a sound engineer he brought to the meeting said the noise wouldn’t negatively impact the neighbors. Still, the planning board asked Schnell to conduct a sound study on the property, which he did on Dec. 18.

Neighbors, planning board members, planning staff and Commissioner Martin Oakes were on hand as two bikes ran on a grassy circle where the proposed dirt track would sit. The results were tabulated by Atlanta-based Merck & Hill Consultants, an acoustical consulting firm that Schnell hired.

Those results recorded a “statistical insignificant deviation” between ambient sound and the sound levels recorded when the two bikes were racing. Neighbors, though, dismiss the study on its merits, even though Planning and Inspections Director Andrew Bryant said it would be “unrealistic” to try to get 40 bikes onto the property.

According to neighbor Teresa Fifield, the group “Concerned Citizens of Hickory Grove” has hired a lawyer and plans to fight in court any decision they don’t agree with. Assuming the matter doesn’t get tabled again, commissioners will vote either to allow or deny the proposal at their Jan. 18 meeting.

The planning board will also hear a public hearing involving Eastwood Construction, which hopes to rezone 25 acres from Transitional Residential and Residential Single-Family to Planned Development Residential. Eastwood plans on constructing a subdivision of 58 homes on the west side of Saint James Church Road and the south side of Verdict Ridge Drive.

The subdivision would be near St. James Elementary School, a school struggling with overcrowding concerns. Staff will recommend approval for the project, on the basis that it is located in a primarily residential area and meets all the requirements of the Unified Development Ordinance.

The Lincoln Economic Development Association is hoping for an amendment to the UDO to make a day care center a permitted use in General Industrial, Light Industrial and Corporate Business districts. According to planning documents, the amendment would “clear the way for the potential development of a child care facility in the Lincoln County Industrial Park.”

Image courtesy of LTN File

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