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Raceway plans outlined at meeting

RELATED: See complete coverage of the Dominion Raceway

RELATED: Raceway plan may need VDOT’s OK

Dominion Raceway owner Steve Britt shows off plans for the proposed facility at a community meeting held Thursday night in Spotsylvania.

BY JEFF BRANSCOME

God put 160 acres in Thornburg to build a racetrack.

At least that’s what Steve Britt—who hopes to build the Dominion Raceway on the northeast corner of the Thornburg exit off Interstate 95—told more than 100 people at a community meeting Thursday evening.

“It just wants to be a racetrack,” he said to a packed conference room at the Ramada Inn off U.S. 1 in Spotsylvania County. “I don’t know what else to tell you.”

The current owner of the land even sponsored a car at the Old Dominion Speedway in the Manassas area, said Britt, who owns that racetrack.

Most of the audience, which included people from Spotsylvania, Louisa and King George counties—and from as far away as Waynesboro, which has a racetrack of its own—seemed to agree, applauding comments supportive of the raceway.

But Matt Jordan, who lives on North Roxbury Mill Road, wasn’t sold. He called himself a neighbor of the proposed raceway and, during a question-and-answer session, asked what raceway officials would do to protect nearby property values.

Attorney Charlie Payne, who represents the raceway, told him the proposal is consistent with the county’s plans for commercial development in that area. He said he hoped that property values would increase.

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Jordan shot back. He added later: “What are you doing about the sound? I’d like to see a 40-foot sound wall around the thing.”

Britt, who called I–95 a “natural sound barrier,” told Jordan he didn’t think he would be impacted. Several people in the audience added that racing organizations have noise limits for cars.

A few other people voiced traffic concerns.

Raceway officials wouldn’t provide specifics on potential road improvements, but said that information would be included in their application to the county for a rezoning and special-use permit. They hope to submit the application next week.

“I think priority one is to make sure I–95 doesn’t get bogged down,” said John Riley, a traffic engineer with a raceway consultant.

Britt said he hopes to have a building permit in April of next year and open the raceway the following spring.

“We really want to put this on the fast track, no pun intended,” Payne said.

Spotsylvania resident Jerri Arrington said she used to live at the backdoor of the Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, and it never bothered her. In fact, she became a racing fan, she said.

“I believe that in these socioeconomic times, you have to look at things like this in the county,” she said, noting that she doesn’t know Britt or any other raceway officials.

Raceway officials have commissioned Steve Fuller, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, to complete an economic impact study.

Other audience members said the speedway would benefit children and discourage dangerous street racing.

If built, it would include an oval track for stock-car racing, a drag strip and a road course.

The raceway also would have a large screen and a three-story entertainment complex that could be used year-round for festivals, concerts, drive-in movies and other events.

“I don’t know of anything else like this in motorsports,” Britt said. “If this doesn’t get national attention for Spotsylvania County, I don’t know what will.”

Britt is the principal owner of the Old Dominion Speedway, which has operated for more than 60 years in Prince William County. He’s currently under contract to sell that 40-acre property to a homebuilder next year.

That site is now hemmed in by residential development, leading to frequent noise complaints. A Prince William police spokeswoman said she didn’t know how many complaints the department had received in recent years or where the complaints came from.

Not everybody with a stake in the raceway attended the information session.

A newly formed group calling itself The Coalition to Preserve the Thornburg Countryside sent a letter to the county Wednesday saying it would boycott the meeting.

Coalition President Joyce Ackerman complained that it was being promoted as a pep rally for racing fans and that not every Thornburg resident received notice of the meeting.

“We certainly do not believe this is the appropriate venue to hear our many concerns addressed,” wrote Ackerman, who lives near the proposed site and said she did not receive a letter about the meeting.

The coalition’s concerns include noise and traffic issues.

Raceway officials mailed notices of the meeting to residents who live within a 2,000-foot radius of the proposed site. That’s what the county recommends for projects that would result in at least  100 trips per peak hour.

Payne noted in an email that the meeting time has been included in newspaper stories, blogs and on Facebook. He said Britt is always open to discussing the project with the community, including those who oppose it.

“All we ask is that any information pertaining to our project and asserted by anyone opposing the project be accurate and based on our proposal,” Payne said in an email. “People are always entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”

Britt has said some opponents of the project have made “wild assumptions.”

Jeff Branscome:  540/374-5402

jbranscome@freelancestar.com

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