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P&Z okays English horse racing facility

By Sherri Ellington The Lamar County planning board recommended Monday the Lamar County commission approve a code amendment that could address future issues like that of a race course on High Falls Road. Members recommended events listed in the code end at 9 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. Music must still end at 7 p.m. Another change in the proposal was to set the noise level for any event with amplified sound at 85 decibels at the property line, based on state highway studies, which did not please detractors. ’That’s the legal limit for a freight train,’ said Marty Sewell. Preston Thompson said that was interstate noise levels, not country roads, and asked it be lowered to 75 decibels. ’If we were going down the road with music playing that loud we’d get a ticket,’ said opponent Shirley White. ’I hope so,’ said zoning administrator Dan Gunter. The recommendation could come before Lamar County commissioners for a public hearing and possible vote at its May 21 meeting. ’We considered an application for Mr. English and we had questions and requirements but he didn’t come back,’ said planning commission member L.D. Park. ‘It went around us. You have to talk to the Lamar County commission about that. This regulation is to help us in the future. Mr. English is past us.’ The person against whom a noise complaint was made would have to prove they were not above the noise limit because the sheriff’s department has no decibel meter. The code also added that stables must be state-certified and keep records on horses’ health status. ’We’re letting a man bring horses into a training facility that’s not up to snuff. What he’s doing isn’t agriculture,’ said Sewell. ‘Three of these tracks have been shut down and there’s only one licensed track in Georgia. He needs to be shut down until he complies.’ Gunter denied the amendment has anything to do with Brutz English’s horse operation on High Falls Park Road, which was open again last Sunday. White asked that English be required to plant trees to block noise and the sight of vehicles coming and going, ‘especially if he expands into a rodeo,’ adding, ‘Anyone using this for subterfuge shouldn’t be allowed’ and citing English’s earlier comment to the tax assessors board that he could charge $20 per pecan to let people in, then they could watch the horses. ’We aren’t talking about Mr. English’s farm where he’s going to do horse racing. He’d have to come in for a special exception just like anyone else,’ said Gunter. ‘He applied for a business license and I wouldn’t give him one because we had no definition. He gave me a copy of the state law and I went from there. He didn’t work with me on it.’ Alvin Faulkner, citing the fight against the Florida Rock quarry and landfill, said he was for the amendment but thought it was too vague. ’If it’s an undesirable industry or event it can be recommended for disapproval by the boards,’ Faulkner said. ‘If you do the research, past horse racing events in Georgia have led to arrests. This should be tabled and looked at.’ The code had to be broad to cover all possibilities as special exceptions; the term ‘undesirable will take us straight back to court,’ Gunter said. ’Many of you are aware Lamar County had an application for a landfill on High Falls Road,’ he said. ‘The county took it to court and lost because we didn’t have a code to address that specific inert landfill.’ State law addresses agritourism under its Conservation Use Valuation Act law. The state code was added to the county code, ‘so we’ll be covered if somebody wants to apply,’ said Gunter, saying English was able to bypass the code because, simply, there wasn’t one. ’Right now we don’t have that control,’ Gunter said. ‘We’re trying to get it.’ As a special exemption under agricultural-residential, applicants would come before the board of appeals and county commission to explain what they want to do, then have restrictions placed as needed. An application would cost $300 under the proposal. Other suggestions by opponents that did not go into the revised proposal included a ban on fireworks, restrictions on alcohol, gambling (covered by state law) and the color of buildings and green buffer zones. Gunter said those would be issues for the board of appeals and commissioners. ’We don’t have time to come fight this over and over again,’ said Tonya Horton. ‘One of the reasons people aren’t here today is because it’s a workday and they have to get their children off to school. The definition of what a farm or ranch is needs to be more clearly defined.’ Horton also said a 50-foot setback requirement was not enough, noting she lived 1,100 feet from a road and could still hear traffic, and said anything open past dark would require stadium lighting, which she called light pollution. The setback was not changed.

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