Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
SPENCER ó Developers of High Rock Raceway have a green flag to start construction from the Spencer Zoning Board of Adjustments.
The board unanimously approved a conditional use permit Thursday night and rejected claims that the property should be preserved as an historic site.
Dave Risdon and Frank McGuire, partners in the $28 million venture, celebrated the board’s decision along with dozens of supporters attending the meeting.
Risdon, who acquired the property through the bankruptcy of Color-Tex, said he expects to have an erosion permit and be able to start work on the site in less than three months.
The plan centers on a two-mile plus road course with a country-club operation. McGuire said 70 of the condos have been pre-sold.
Risdon deflected questions about a rumored partner in the project, saying “no comment” to whether Petty Enterprises might be a partner in the raceway or a potential buyer of a portion of the property.
A top Petty official has confirmed that the company is looking to move to the Salisbury area, indicating a decision on the exact site is likely in the next few months.
Risdon and McGuire said they don’t think it will take nearly as long to build the track as it has taken to work through the hurdles of getting the permit.
Nearly four years ago, Risdon went through Rowan County’s conditional use process and received a permit. But county zoning didn’t allow for the mix of residential development in the property, which was zoned industrial.
Risdon then worked to get Spencer to annex the property and go through the town’s permit process. Thursday night he accepted responsibility for the problems last year, saying the application wasn’t complete. “We have worked very hard to make it complete this time. That will help us with the development.”
Jeff Morris, a Salisbury attorney and chairman of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, led the board through a meticulous and tedious finding of facts based on hours of testimony and information provided at the Aug. 2 public hearing.
Under state law, the board must provide detailed findings to support each of the board’s conclusions. Failure to do so could lead to a court overturning the board’s actions.
Morris apologized at one point, saying the board’s deliberations were like “watching paint dry.”
After OK’ing the finding of facts, the board approved the permit and went on to discuss and approve 17 conditions, which include such things as a prohibition against any races between 10 a.m. and noon on Sundays.
At several points in the findings, Morris referred to Ann Brownlee and the Trading Ford Historic District Preservation Association, who mounted an all-out campaign to stop the race track and keep the board from issuing the permit.
Morris concluded, and the board agreed, that the potential cultural or historical significance of the property was destroyed more than four decades ago by development including construction of N.C. Finishing Co., U.S. 29, Interstate 85, railroad tracks and other utility easements that cross the property.
The board approved a condition, which Risdon accepted, to require that any historical artifacts or relics be preserved and display ed near a fountain proposed in Phase II of the development. Otherwise, the materials would be donated to the Rowan Museum or a N.C. university with an archeology department.
One of the findings adopted says that neither Brownlee nor her organization has any claim based in reality that she or the organization can be aggrieved or damaged by the granting of the permit or setbacks.
Brownlee made several comments loudly during the board’s deliberations but apparently left before the meeting ended.
The findings, read by Morris and approved by the board, cited the potential value of the race track in increasing property values and boosting tourism to Spencer.
Darrell Fruth, attorney for Brownlee and her organization, had mixed luck in getting the board to adopt 12 conditions he suggested.
One of the conditions he recommended drew laughter from the audience and the board.
Fruth asked the board to require all race cars to use unleaded fuel to avoid dispersion of lead in the air that could damage IQs.
Morris noted that high performance engines require leaded fuel, saying adoption of that condition would effectively stop the track.
Board members rejected it.