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English, opposition go at it over racetrack

By Sherri Ellington Though his agritourism special exception was tabled by the Lamar County commission, Arthur ‘Brutz’ English came to the advertised hearing to explain what his plans were for his family’s 530 acre, 100-year-old farm. His detractors were there at the July 16 commission meeting as well. The whole scene will be replayed at a July 31 board of appeals hearing and the ensuing August commission meeting. English allegedly did not receive his mailed notice of the first appeals meeting which was advertised in The Herald Gazette. He said several neighbors also seem not to have received mailed notices. ’From the very beginning I’ve tried to be transparent,’ said English. ‘Table this so everyone can have their say and we’ll have done it in the right way.’ English said there will be horse boarding and training at the existing race track. There are 14 stalls and nine under construction, free parking, playgrounds and security apparently provided by off duty law enforcement officers. ’There are so many options out there,’ he said. Some include U-pick fruit and vegetable fields, primitive camping facilities suitable for youth groups such as Boy Scouts, corn mazes and trail rides. ‘I want something for people to enjoy for the traditional use it’s always had,’ he said. ‘I want to keep it agricultural with a small impact on my neighbors. Other businesses that have come in here have been a disaster.’ English met the night before with the North Lamar County Community Association, a citizens group that originally formed to fight a rock quarry site on Highway 36. ’We had a good discussion,’ said member Preston Thompson. ‘Brutz pledged to be a good neighbor. Our main issue is the sound and he pledged to do something about that. Any drug and alcohol issues will have to be addressed in-house.’ Personally, Thompson said, ‘I’m not against it. I’m just concerned about other things going on there.’ English said plans called for a tree barrier and speaker configurations to help confine the sound waves. ’We’re going to look at all the options and come up with the best possible solutions to work on being as quiet as we can,’ he said. ‘It’s out of the way but connected to the interstate and the state park. We’re trying to retain as much of our tradition as we can.’ Tonya Horton, who opposes the special exception as lacking benefit to the neighborhood, noted the official website says nothing about sales of honey or pecans, making her suspicious about the legality of the track, which cannot get a local business license until it completes the process for a state equine license. ’He’s a very smart man and he knows better,’ said Horton. ‘He knew he had to get these things and he didn’t. The promises he’s made he may not be able to keep. He’s said when gambling is legalized he’ll make the most money he can on the horse racing. The ads are already up and the bill is already being sponsored’ for pari-mutuel betting in Georgia. The bill is known as House Bill 4 and, under its current form, would allow counties and cities to hold referendums to allow or not allow gambling at horse races. Such gambling is now illegal. ’My kids are out there,’ said English. ‘If something isn’t right we’ll call people out. We want a safe, wholesome environment for working class people who want to relax on Sunday afternoons. It’s not a lot of riffraff.’ Under a loophole in the current Conservation Use Valuation Act a customer can pay $20 per adult or $3 per child for pecans and is allowed to watch any races for free. English admitted to doing so at the meeting, adding he would like to get away from having to use the loophole and have a business license instead. ’It’s not an illegal activity,’ said commission chairman Jay Matthews. ‘Everybody has a right to do what they want on their own property and he’s doing everything to comply. We want no noise, no gambling, no speeding and no DUIs. If they break the law your security is to write down the tag number and never let them back again.’ Shirley White also asked that the commission rule against the special exception, which cites only agritourism activities. ’It’s not an asset to the community,’ White said. ‘It’ll draw unsavory people who will freeload off the system and damage county roads. At the meeting last night he said he would ram it down our throats. I don’t know what to think about the integrity of someone who’d come back at you with something like that. It’s a slap in the face to the community.’ White noted his mother Shanna English had objected to a radio tower in the same neighborhood as not being historic. Brutz English countered by saying Summers Field in Barnesville was originally laid out as a horse racing track. At commissioner Van Baker’s expression of concern about ‘the bad things that go along with a race track,’ English noted two tracks that had been shut down in Georgia and one in South Carolina ‘“ and two tracks in Georgia that are properly run. ‘The difference is the first were people trying to subvert the system,’ English said. ‘They didn’t go through the procedures and try to be compliant. I’m trying to be in the full light of day. Horse racing is a small part of it. It’s where I’m starting up to raise revenue. Don’t judge me by somebody else’s failures. In 14 weeks I’ve had six events with no arrests. We’re establishing that we can run this in a professional, non-harmful manner.’ As far as the track apparently drawing mostly Mexicans, English blamed that on CUVA, which does not allow a home on the site to be rented. It can be used to house farm labor, so it is occupied by a horse trainer with decades of experience ‘“ who is Hispanic. English’s CUVA application, however, has been withdrawn. Carol Moxon, a local horse trainer, also races and boards her horses there, he added.

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