A local farmer and businessman who wants to build a mile-long motocross racing track on his 45- acre Macon County cattle farm says he is still considering his options.
After meeting stiff resistance from some neighbors and others opposed to his plan, Herman “Bud” Talley, owner of Nantahala Meats in Franklin, decided to drop his request for a variance to the county’s High Impact Ordinance which regulates motor sports activities and other high impact industrial/commercial property uses in the county. But, Talley says, the idea has not been taken off the table.
Trying to save the family farm
The recent economic downturn has forced Talley, like many others small farmers in the country, to reevaluate his situation. A decade ago, small farmers in Western North Carolina could still make a living, but in recent years a lot has changed. “Now-a-days, you take your very best calf to market and get $500. Then you go to get a ton of fertilizer which right now will cost you $800,” he explained. “It doesn’t take a college education to figure out that’s just not feasible.”
To keep the things going, Talley has had to subsidize the farm, which has been in his family since 1935, with income from Nantahala Meats, but that situation, too, has become untenable. The last thing he wants to do is to develop his land in a way that would destroy it for agriculture in the future. He doesn’t want to divide it up into lots or develop it commercially, but he has a few alternatives. One is motocross.
Talley says that his son, now in high school, has ridden motocross for years and that they have travelled together to events around the country. During these trips he realized that many of the motocross facilities they visited were farmland like his own that had been transformed for a different use. At the same time, making a race course does not destroy the land, and it would be a simple matter to reclaim pastures or fields in the future.
“It’s a way that you can use your property and not do any permanent structural changes to it,” Talley explained. “In other words, if ten years down the road I change my mind, I can just take a bulldozer and knock the jumps down and I’m back in the cattle business. Or if I pass away and leave it to my children, there it is. It won’t have apartment buildings or commercial things on it. It’s still as close intact to a farm as it can be.”
Community not sold on idea
At a Nov. 23 meeting of the Macon County Board of Adjustments, board members heard four hours of testimony related to Talley’s request for a variance that would allow for a setback of 300 feet from his property line instead of the 750 feet setback required for motor sports facilities operating more than three motorcycles for more than two hours in an eight-hour period.
Jack Morgan, clerk of the Board of Adjustments, said the meeting had passionate people on both sides of the debate. “There were a lot of emotions,” said Morgan of the meeting.
Not all of those who attended the meeting were against Talley’s request for a variance. “There were some folks who thought that Mr. Talley should have the right to use his property as he saw fit,” Morgan explained. On the other hand, some neighbors in attendance were very concerned that a motocross track would at best only disturb the peace of the rural community and at worst lower property values.
“People from both sides had good arguments,” Morgan said.
When Talley saw that he didn’t have the four votes on the five-member board necessary to pass a variance, he decided to withdraw his request. At some point in the future, he could choose to apply for the variance again. But Talley knows that it will take more work on his part to put his neighbors at ease about their concerns.
“I think it is a case of people not fully understanding,” Talley said of the opposition to his plan.“It’s a very family oriented sport,” Talley added. “I feel like a lot of people, when they think of motorcycles, they think of Hell’s Angels. This is so different. These are family events.”
Talley had hoped that more people with concerns would have contacted him directly. Earlier in November, he had mailed out letters to the owners of the properties which border his farm explaining his plans, but he says no one replied.
Talley says that his motocross track would operate a maximum of 16 days out of the year, “probably more like 12 to 14 days,” he said. And even that is open to discussion.
According to Morgan, Talley has every right to start a motocross facility on his property. The problem is that to have the track officially sanctioned by the American Motorcyclist Association, he needs a mile long course and at least 15 acres. That is why he needs a variance on the 750 foot setback requirement. A 300 foot setback would leave him just enough space to work with.
The high impact ordinance that Talley must comply with, Chapter 157 of the Macon County Code, applies to property uses such as airstrips and helicopter facilities, asphalt plants and concrete suppliers, chemical and flammable storage facilities, commercial incinerators and sawmills, as well as motor sports activities.
“Aside from the set back, Talley is well within his rights to establish a motocross facility on a smaller scale as long as he abides by other provisions of the high impact ordinance,” Morgan explained. “If he wants a motocross facility that runs more than three motorcycles for more than two hours for every eight hour period, then he must maintain a set back of 750 feet from his property line. If he’s able to do that, then he can, and doesn’t need a variance.”
Do we need a motocross facility in WNC?
“Oh, definitely. There’s a huge need” for a motocross facility in the region, said Talley, adding that the nearest AMA sanctioned facility is two and a half to three hours from here. Talley says he understands the comments from people in the real estate business that expressed concerns about the impact of such a facility on property values in the area, but Talley says the economic benefits would outweigh the drawbacks.
“A lot of people would come to the Macon County area that have never been here before. They would see the beauty of the area and may decide that this would be a good place for a summer home. Anytime you can expose new people to the area, it’s going to help the property values,” he said.
Instead of the mile-long AMA course, Talley may still decide to put a practice facility on his property, one which would operate for no more than two hours in any eight-hour period, which would be well within his rights. He says he is exploring the idea and looking at how much need and desire there is for a practice facility in the region.