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Group opposes speedway move

RELATED: See complete coverage of the Dominion Raceway

BY BILL FREEHLING and JEFF BRANSCOME

A group calling itself “The Coalition to Preserve the Thornburg Countryside” has sent Spotsylvania County officials a letter voicing its opposition to the Old Dominion Speedway’s planned relocation to Thornburg.

The letter, sent this week to the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors and School Board, expresses concerns about noise and the raceway’s impact on traffic, nearby schools, the environment and the area’s rural feel. It also questions whether the revenue the county would generate from the raceway would cover traffic-mitigation requirements.

“We believe it would be a mistake for anyone to prematurely conclude a race track would result in a net economic gain for Spotsylvania,” the letter says.

Steve Britt is principal owner of the Old Dominion Speedway, which has operated in the Manassas area for more than 60 years. The site is now hemmed in by residential development, leading to frequent noise complaints.

Britt is under contract to sell the 40 acres where the speedway is currently located to a homebuilder in April.  He’s also under contract to purchase 160 acres on the northeast corner of the Thornburg interchange off Interstate 95 for the new facility, which he plans to call the Dominion Raceway.

The sale is contingent on various government approvals from Spotsylvania and transportation officials.

Britt hopes to open the Dominion Raceway in Spotsylvania 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.

He 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 go there.

The Coalition to Preserve the Thornburg Countryside has a website and Facebook page called “Stop The Raceway.” Its letter calls the group a “fast-growing coalition of Thornburg-area  residents and Spotsylvania citizens” but doesn’t say who any of those people are.

Joyce Ackerman, who lives near the proposed site, said a group of about 15 Thornburg residents met at her home last week to voice their concerns about the additional traffic and noise the raceway would create. The website and Facebook pages sprung in part from that meeting.

The online dialogue between the Thornburg coalition and fans of the Dominion Raceway, which also has a Facebook site, has been contentious at times.

Proponents of the raceway say the facility will bring needed jobs and tax revenue to the county and provide an entertainment option for the entire community. They also say Interstate 95 will drown out much of the noise.

Britt said Thursday that he expected some opposition to the raceway, and he thinks the opponents are well within their rights to voice their opinions. But he thinks the coalition has been putting out false information about what the track will really be like and the amount of noise and traffic it will produce.

“They’ve made some wild assumptions.” he said. “It’s not a credible group.”

Britt said his team plans to submit its rezoning application to Spotsylvania officials before Christmas. He said information about traffic, fiscal and other impacts will be made public then.

He thinks the raceway will ultimately prove to be a very positive community asset, and he believes that the Thornburg coalition is a vocal minority.

The debate will soon move from the virtual to the real world on Dec. 13, when a community information meeting on the raceway will be held at 6 p.m. at the Ramada Inn at 5324 Jefferson Davis Highway in Spotsylvania. Britt plans to attend that meeting.

Public hearings will ultimately be held as well in front of Spotsylvania’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. Those dates have not been scheduled.

Spotsylvania Supervisors Chairwoman Ann Heidig said the raceway project sounds like it would help economic development, but she thinks concerns need to be addressed before any decision.

Almost every issue has two sides, she said, which is why the county has public hearings.

“I don’t really like to make up my mind until I’ve heard both sides.  Somewhere, maybe, is the middle ground,” Heidig said.

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405

bfreehling@freelancestar.com

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