To the Editor:

Clarks Chapel is a delightful and quiet area that in recent years has attracted many people, including retirees, investing in land and homes. They have done so to enjoy the tranquility and beauty of this small part of the mountains.

Mr. Bud Talley is proposing to insert into this lovely area a commercial motocross track, operating it for monetary gain with, in our view, no genuine concern about the effect it would have on his neighbors.

Macon County has no zoning, but like other counties in Western North Carolina it has a high impact ordinance to help reduce the negative effects of intrusive businesses. Mr. Talley needed, and attempted to obtain, a waiver of a key provision of the ordinance so he could proceed with his track, but was refused. So he is now proposing to go ahead with an alternative version, exploiting a loophole in the law that would allow him to operate all day, seven days a week, and which he has openly stated would have greater negative impact on neighbors than his original proposal.  

Talley says that we neighbors “don’t understand,” that motocross racing is not like Hell’s Angels, but is a “family activity.” This is patronizing to us; we know what it is. What he doesn’t mention is that motocross is an extremely noisy and disruptive activity that has huge negative impacts on those living close by. The fact that many such tracks all over the country have attracted lawsuits by neighbors shows clearly that placing motocross in residential areas is in no way positive.

Even the pastor of a nearby church testified in the waiver hearing against his proposal because it would be disruptive to the work of the church.

Talley and others say that he should have the right to do what he wants on his own property. We agree that property rights must be respected. But what does that mean? We have property too. Don’t we have the right to enjoy our properties in peace, to quietly tend to our gardens, sit on our porches on tranquil evenings, and have friends over for dinner and quiet conversation? Talley’s exercising his property right would take away our property rights. Why should his rights take precedence over ours? No one has the right, in exercising his rights, to take away the rights of others. Rights are not absolute. They often conflict, and must always be exercised responsibility.

During the variance hearing Talley magnanimously and publicly offered to place ads in local papers to let us know when races would be held, so we could go somewhere else for the weekend and avoid the noise.  Isn’t that nice!  His idea, apparently, is that it’s OK we neighbors would have to abandon our homes so he can have his races and make money.  This shows to us, as it should to everyone, how out-of-touch he is with understanding the impacts of what he is proposing. We don’t understand what world he is living in, but it’s not a world inhabited by any of us.

Talley has stated that the economic benefits of the track would outweigh the costs. This is patently false. It is an indisputable fact that motocross tracks severely reduce nearby property values. Under real estate sales rules that have been developed by the private sector real estate industry, not any government, the existence of such a track nearby is deemed a negative “material fact,” and must be disclosed to potential buyers. Testimony at the hearing showed that, given the value of property in the vicinity, even a small percentage reduction in value, a very conservative estimate, would diminish surrounding property value by several million dollars. In essence, Tally is trying to make money for himself by robbing us, his neighbors, of our property values that we have invested our own hard-earned money in, and have every right to expect will be protected.

This project will also weigh on the future economy of the county. A highly visible racing facility would send a strong signal that Macon County is unwilling and/or unable to control the development of obnoxious activities, greatly reducing its attractiveness as a place to live and retire. Many persons who have bare land in our area, and planed to build retirement homes, are already on record that they will not do so if this project moves forward. The loss for the county would be enormous.

In sum, this track is a very bad idea. We earnestly hope Mr. Talley will look to the infinity of other ways he can draw income from his property. Given the current lack of protective laws in Macon County, if he goes ahead our only recourse will be the courts, to stop the track or, failing that, seek damages. These strategies have been successful elsewhere, but they only enrich lawyers, who would be happy to take on the ensuing cases that would seek thousands or even millions in damages. We hope not to be forced down that road, but if left with no other choice will have little option but to do so.

John and Janet Binkley

John and Joye Feaster

Lynn Olson

Macon County residents

Editor’s note: Bud Talley, who is planning to build the motocross track, was given the opportunity to respond to this letter but declined.

The Macon County businessman and farmer who stirred up controversy recently by announcing plans to build a dirt-bike racetrack in a residential community said he’s still deciding whether to move forward with the plan.

More than 100 people turned out for a public meeting last month after Herman “Bud” Talley, owner of Nantahala Meats in Franklin and of a 45-acre farm in the Clarks Chapel community, asked the Macon County Board of Adjustment for a variance to the county’s high-impact use law.

A nod of approval would have allowed Talley to build a sanctioned track. He needed a setback exception — reducing a 750-foot buffer zone to about 350 feet — to meet parking and other needs stipulated by the American Motorcyclist Association. Board members appeared poised to reject the request, and Talley backed off in response.

But, as he and his attorney pointed out then, that rejection means he might just move forward with building a legal, but unsanctioned, facility for dirt-bike practice.

The devil is truly in the details on this one. If granted the variance, Talley had promised to build a track that would be used, at most, 16 days a year. Or, he could opt for the smaller practice facility — which would fit within the confines of the setback requirements and therefore doesn’t need a variance — and operate 365 days a year.

Opponents told the Board of Adjustment in December they’d rather gamble on Talley not following through rather than see him open a track under the auspices of county-granted legitimacy.

“I’m in limbo right now,” Talley said this week. “I’m kind of just exploring all my options.”

There’s no particular rush to decide given the harsh winter weather, which has shutdown construction projects across the mountains. Talley has characterized the construction of a dirt-bike racetrack as a last-ditch effort to save his farm.

John Binkley, who lives within earshot of Talley’s property and who has helped organize neighbors to derail the construction of a dirt-bike racetrack, said the loosely affiliated group is monitoring the situation the best they can.

“We’re keeping an eye on it,” he said recently. “No machinery has actually appeared and started digging.”

Binkley added he hopes the situation in Clarks Chapel helps other mountain residents understand why land controls are needed.

“When these kind of things happen, hopefully more and more people catch on,” he said.

Opponents have cited land devaluation and loss of peace and quiet as reasons they don’t want Talley to move forward.

More than 100 people turned out recently to protest a Macon County farmer’s plan to save his land by building a dirt-bike racetrack.

Herman “Bud” Talley, a well-known figure in Macon County — he’s owner of Nantahala Meats, home of the locally renowned Nantahala Brand Sausage — offered the county’s Board of Adjustment and his neighbors a Faustian bargain.

Endorse a variance needed for a setback and he’d build a sanctioned motocross course that would only open for 16 days a year (eight weekends, total, because the races would take place on Saturdays and Sundays). Or, turndown the request, and risk his building a practice course that could legally operate without restrictions for 365 days a year.

When the Macon County Board of Adjustment showed every indication of voting down the desired variance on a setback — members agreed at the outset of their deliberations he didn’t meet the requirements — Talley’s attorney withdrew his client’s request.

But not before scores of Macon County residents, particularly Talley’s neighbors in the Clarks Chapel community, united (for the most part, though not entirely) in roundly condemning his plans.

What’s going to happen next isn’t yet known. Some dirt-bike racetrack opponents said they view Talley’s threat as a reason to strengthen zoning laws in Macon County. This, they said, will serve as a rallying cry for that to take place.

Maybe, maybe not, what with a new Republican majority dominating the county’s always-conservative board of commissioners. For now, Talley can apparently still move forward if he wants with a practice facility, as his attorney made abundantly clear.

 

His need for a variance

Talley framed his variance request as a means of saving the family’s 45-acre farm, primarily home now to a herd of beef cattle, located in the Clarks Chapel community. The beef cattle will have to go, Talley said, adding it would break his heart. Motorcycles will replace them.

The 49-year-old Talley told how the land was cleared by hand by his father and grandfather, and had served the family well since being purchased in 1935. The Macon County native emphasized he felt bound by promises made to his late parents to protect the family’s holding, to find new and innovative ways in this difficult economic time for farmers to continue the Talley farming tradition.

Clarks Chapel, once home to acres and acres of prime farmland such as Talley’s, is an increasingly residential community situated just on the outskirts of Franklin. Retirees in particular have gravitated to the community, building houses as fast as Talley’s farming neighbors have given up and sold out.

 

Response: ‘Oh, bull’

Don’t fool yourself or try to fool us, opponents such as Margaret Crownover, who grew up on a farm near Asheville, told Talley. Build a dirt-bike racetrack and you’re not saving the farm — that’s not agriculture by any name. Farming is about cattle. Vegetables. Pitchforks and manure. Not helmets and motorcycles and throngs of people riding around in circles. Dirt bikes aren’t farming — the argument is, in reality, about one man’s wish to build a motorcycle racetrack in a residential community, pure and simple.

“And no one here tonight would want a racetrack next to them,” said Crownover, who moved to a townhouse in the Clarks Chapel community about 10 years ago.

Others, such as Roger Nelson, told the board of adjustment they would rather gamble on Talley not moving forward with the threatened practice course than see him operate under a cloak of county-granted legitimacy.

Don’t, in other words, grant Talley a variance reducing the 750-foot buffer zone to about 350 feet, which would enable him to add the necessary parking for a sanctioned course. Force him — if he really wants to punish the community for a ‘no’ vote — to open an unsanctioned practice course featuring virtually unhindered motorcycle use.

Not everyone agreed. Danny Baldwin, a nearby neighbor, endorsed Talley’s right to do anything he wants with his own land — including running motorcycles every day of the year, 24-hours at a time if he wants. So be it, because that’s his land and therefore his prerogative.

“That’s Bud Talley’s property, and he should be able to do that,” Baldwin said.

Macon County has few land-use regulations. But one they do have, no matter how weak it’s actually proving under fire, is an ordinance regulating high impact land uses. The ostensible purpose of the county’s law is to protect the welfare of residents by diminishing impacts of land uses that lead to noise, dust and so on, as opponent John Binkley pointed out.

“The direct impact zone is essentially a 400-foot band around the outside edge,” he said. “An analysis performed at my request by the county Land Records/GIS department showed that there are 49 tax parcels wholly or partly within the 400-foot band, of which most include residences.”

Binkley, who has surfaced as the primary force behind those opposing a dirt-bike racetrack being built in their community, argued a variance would create the following problems:

• Neighbors would lose enjoyment of their properties, through noise, dust and other pollutants: “This effect has special significance for certain of the neighbors … including (a) horse-breeding farm as well as retirees, in some cases with health concerns, who have invested a significant part of their savings in their homes with the expectation of a quiet and peaceful life in Macon County.”

• Negative traffic impacts would result. The rural roads in Clarks Chapel were not designed or built to ferry the amount of traffic that would result.

• Property values would decline: “… the loss of real-estate values would eventually come to be reflected in lower tax assessments and lower tax collections, reducing the county’s revenue.”

• Macon County’s economic future would suffer: “Approval of this variance … would send a strong signal out to the potential retiree market that Macon County is unwilling and/or unable to control the development of obnoxious activities that greatly reduce its attractiveness as a place for them to retire and live.”

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