CAIRO — A controversial variance request for a potential three-day motocross event at the beginning of November has been approved following a 4-1 vote by the Grady County Commission.
Georgia Practice Facility co-owner Raymond Woods first submitted a request in June for the commissioners to relieve certain restrictions on the noise limits and hours of operations that govern his business, with the goal of holding what he's dubbed the "Southern Pride Showdown" in October. Woods retracted his request and submitted a new one for November when he became aware of other motocross tracks in the region hosting events during the same period.
Commissioner Phillip Drew, who motioned to approve Woods' request, said he thinks the event will benefit the community.
"Let's go for it," he said. "Let's promote Grady County."
The event will give young motocross riders the opportunity to compete for scholarship funds through a series of races. Winners will be awarded a weighted amount of money, and the funds can only be used for their intended purpose of supporting the athletes' continued education.
Woods has previously stated that his goal is for the event to feature 300 riders, and it will likely have less than 1,000 attendees total.
The variance request did not come without its detractors, and several nearby residents expressed concerns that the event was likely to be the first of many that would bring noise and other headaches that present an unfair burden to them.
"If we OK the variance, we're opening a Pandora's box," said Cary Bishop, a resident of nearby Evergreen Lane.
Woods said he may be back next year for another variance request if the event goes well, but he shot down any suggestion that it would become commonplace.
"I don't believe that this will snowball into every other week being a race," he said.
A public hearing for the variance was held at a commission meeting last month, and more than a dozen citizens spoke both in favor and in opposition to the request.
One common criticism of the variance request was that it was unnecessary. In an earlier public hearing, Woods said that the event was likely to abide by the rules already in place, and his opponents seized on the line as an admission that the variance was not needed.
Commissioner June Knight, who opposed the variance request, echoed those concerns.
"I really do want to be a pro-business person, but the restrictions are already there," she said.
Woods said his comments were taken out of context, and maintained that he couldn't hold the event without the variance in place.
If a bike's muffler were to be damaged and started making noise that exceeded the regular limits, Woods would run afoul of the rules. With possibly hundreds of riders expected at the event, Woods said he didn't want to take the chance that one mistake outside of his control could lead to him getting in trouble.
"I just want to give myself the best option to do it and the best chance for everybody," Woods said.
Drew's motion was seconded by commissioner Ray Prince, who said the event provides Woods and the motocross industry an opportunity to prove their value to the community.
"For me, it's kind of a test," Prince said. "We can look and see what it does for the county."
Prince said that if the event turns sour then the commissioners can simply choose not to grant another variance request in the future. If the event is successful on the other hand, then it can present the beginning of something positive.
That reasoning was enough to win the vote of commission chair LaFaye Copeland, who said she has received numerous letters and phone calls from concerned residents in regards to the variance request.
Though Copeland said she sympathized with locals who were worried about the noise, she also wanted to give Woods the opportunity to try to pull it off.
"The world is changing," Copeland said. "We've never had it happen here before, and that's why I voted yes."