Despite opposition from neighbors concerned about traffic and noise, Teresa Earnhardt, widow of racing great Dale Earnhardt, received a permit this week to create a 317-acre outdoor activities center on rural N.C. 3 in Mooresville.
The venture will include horseback riding/nature trails, commercial stables, tent camping, endurance courses, archery ranges, live outdoor theater, rodeos, fishing ponds, a lodge, an open-sided pavilion and paint ball courses, according to her permit application at the Iredell County Department of Planning, Development and Transportation Services in Statesville.
Earnhardt also intends to host farm and environmental educational outings, according to the application filed Nov. 20. “One of the aims is to enhance awareness of nature and natural settings,” Earnhardt said in her application.
Dick Brolin of Piedmont Design Associates in Mooresville spoke for Earnhardt at an hour-long public hearing in Statesville Thursday night called by the Iredell County Board of Adjustment. Earnhardt sat in the audience but didn’t address the board, which approved the permit 6-0.
Brolin said the site has nearly five miles of trails – basically “farm roads” used for existing farming operations on the property. Parking for 300 people is planned, with overflow parking available on numerous grassy areas, he said.
The project will have 25 to 32 stalls for boarding horses, Brolin said. Poultry houses on the site will be torn down for a horse arena that could host rodeos and other horse competitions, he told the board. A wildlife viewing area is planned and “limited” tent camping for Scouts and “the casual overnight camper,” he said.
Charlotte lawyer Ben Ellis, also representing Earnhardt at the hearing, said the site would be available only to those with memberships, who would then have to make reservations. Activities also could be made available to horseback riding and fishing clubs and non-profits such as schools and the Girl Scouts, he said.
In her application, Earnhardt wrote that all activity areas are “remote” from homes, with primary entrances and parking areas off a three-lane section of N.C. 3 – a section widened when the nearby Dale Earnhardt Inc. was built. DEI is the auto racing enterprise founded by the seven-time Winston Cup champion and for which Teresa Earnhardt continues to serve as secretary.
“Significant woodland and farm lands separate group activities proposed from all neighboring residential uses,” Earnhardt said in her application.
Neighbors weren’t appeased.
“The Earnhardt family has the ways and means to make sure they’re protected,” said Rhonda Bowles, who told the Board of Adjustment that people have parked without permission in her yard on N.C. 3 during events at DEI. “We don’t. We’re looking for you to protect us.”
“This could be devastating to our community,” Jimmy Howard of nearby Sample Road told the board.
He and four other residents who spoke Thursday night said they’ve contended for years with late-night noise from events at DEI and cars blocking access to their roads.
Board Chairman Michael Johnson told the dozen or so opponents in attendance that the uses proposed by Earnhardt are allowed by special-use permit under the property’s rural agricultural zoning designation. Iredell County commissioners set zonings, he said.
Johnson said he agreed noise is an issue. “I’m sad to say Iredell County has a noise ordinance but doesn’t enforce it, because the county doesn’t have the equipment,” he told the residents.
Johnson made the motion to approve the permit, adding such conditions as having all parking be on site, that there be no alcohol sales and the state Department of Transportation evaluate the adequacy of entrances and exists.
Charlotte lawyer Curtis Elliott, who also represented Earnhardt at the hearing, told the Observer no cost estimate has been established for the project.
Asked by the Observer for her overall thoughts on the project as she left the Iredell County Government Center, Earnhardt smiled and replied, “Everything’s been said.”