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York County lawn mower race track may clear hurdle Tuesday in fight to stay open

The owner of Phat Bottom Speedway in western York County hopes to clear one hurdle Tuesday night in his efforts to keep the lawn mower race track open.

The track, which opened in 2009, is located on 15 acres off Jim McCarter Road that are zoned for rural development, a classification that doesn’t allow for a race track. The York County Council is scheduled to consider a final vote Tuesday night to change the zoning to an agriculture conservation district.

If track owner Brian Saunders is successful, he then must ask the county’s Zoning Board of Adjustment to grant special permission – or a special exception – to allow the track to remain open.

“In the (agriculture conservation district), there’s a list of special exceptions that are permitted, such as airports, bed and breakfasts, landfills, mining, composting, and then, of course, race courses,” said Stephen Allen, York County’s planning service manager. “All of these have additional impacts beyond what is permitted in the underlying district.”

To gain a special exception, Saunders will have to submit a site plan, have the site plan approved and then have his request accepted by the Zoning Board of Appeals. While Saunders isn’t worried about the initial rezoning process, he believes that gaining a special exemption may be more difficult.

“The county has already projected this piece of property to be agricultural in their future site plan, so really that’s why they don’t have any problems with the rezoning,” Saunders said. “It’s going to be up to the Zoning Board of Appeals as we apply for that special exemption permit. That’s when it’s going to get tricky.”

Before two preliminary votes by the county council in favor of the rezoning, race track supporters filled the council chambers. Many said they supported the rezoning because it’s a wholesome activity and families can enjoy the sport either as participants or spectators.

When Saunders bought the land last year to make a home for his family and 13 horses, he believed it was properly zoned for a race track. Saunders intended to allow the former track owners to finish out the season, but he got involved and kept the track open this year after seeing how much some members of the community enjoyed the races.

“After seeing it and living here and allowing them to run their lease out and finish their season up, I didn’t want to come in and be this homeowner that’s like ‘you’re closed,’” Saunders said.

Some of Saunders’ neighbors are not fans of the speedway, though. Before the county council gave its initial approval to rezoning the land, a few neighbors, including Brian Herring, urged council members to vote no. Herring’s biggest issue with the track is the noise.

“I can hear it from my home, very loudly,” Herring said. “It didn’t bother me at first and then it progressively got louder.”

The Phat Bottom Speedway can remain open until the rezoning and special exception are either approved or denied, which Herring takes issue with because the race track isn’t in compliance with current zoning laws.

The issue has caused Saunders grief as well, forcing him to raise door prices from $5 to $10 to help pay for the rezoning process.

Despite some neighbors’ complaints, Saunders insists the track is benefiting the community more than hurting it. This year Saunders started a nonprofit organization, the York County Lawnmower Racing Association, to donate money made from the races to Rideability Therapeutic Riding, the Shriners and local citizens in need. According to Saunders, the nonprofit gives him a chance to give back to the community that puts time and effort into the speedway.

Herring has no problem with the positive initiatives and the idea of the track. His issue is that the track is in a residential area surrounded by homes.

“I appreciate their hobby and they have fun and bring families out to do it, and that’s fine,” Herring said. “If they were in an area like Blacksburg, where you’re not in a residential area, then that would be another thing. There are homes all up and down through here and not all of us have a desire for that to be in our backyard.”

Herring said he has noticed an increase in noise as the crowds have grown, and he fears the speedway will grow bigger and louder if given the chance.

While the large crowds upset neighbors like Herring, Saunders said the 837 people who attended a race last month have motivated him to continue fighting to save the track. He wants to continue providing entertainment to the fans who enjoy watching the souped-up lawnmowers and for racers and mechanics who have spent years working on them.

“I think you’ve got a lot of guys in Clover and York County that have dedicated their every weekend to working on a mower or racing a mower to come down here to put on a show for a lot of people that don’t drive very far and live close,” Saunders said. “I think that’s the biggest reason to keep it open.”