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P&Z Commission rejects motorcycle track in farm country

Despite a staff recommendation to approve it, the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Monday to reject a motorcycle track proposed next door to horse farms.

The 5-0 denial before a standing-room-only crowd was the latest episode in a 20-year tussle between the landowner and his neighbors to determine how the parcel will be used, and it may not be over. Landowner Randy Yoho and attorney Leonard Johnson will likely bring the matter before the Hernando County Commission who will have the final say.

“It’s a relief,” opponent Anna Stromberg said after the vote. “I got nervous watching other cases get approved, but they (the commissioners) were ready to deny, all five of them.”  

Yoho is the president of the applicant Out of Bounds Inc. in San Antonio, FL which owns 26.5 acres on the northwest corner of the Interstate 75-State Road 50 intersection at the northern end of Remington Road. He is seeking a special exception use permit for most of that section for off-road vehicle tracks to be built for non-commercial recreation; another 10 acres is not being rezoned but will provide access to the track leading to Remington and Wildlife Lane.

According to a report by the Hernando County Planning Department, the petition should be approved. It states no additional buildings will be constructed on the site, which now holds one storage structure.

The report states the proposal is consistent with the “Comprehensive Plan, is compatible with surrounding land uses, and is not adverse to the public interest” if certain conditions were attached; the most important ones were limiting the number of motorcyles running on the property at one time to seven and restricting the hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. four days a week. Staffers also reported most of that time would be spent resting riders and working on bikes, so actual riding time would only be about 90 minutes per day. Staff also noted there is a 150-foot setback separating bikers from the farms, but opponents said it isn’t always observed.

Yoho and his neighbors have argued over the use of the land ever since Feb. 7, 2001, when the Hernando County Commission denied his first petition to rezone it to create a motorcycle track. Eleven years ago the county also rejected his request to hold a motocross race on the property. However, the commission granted Yoho a rezoning of the tract from mining to agricultural last Feb. 9 despite opposition.

Surrounding residents also opposed another proposal Yoho once made to build a landfill there, even though the area was once used for that purpose.

In defending his petition, Yoho said some of the parcel borders on the 2,600-acre Croom Motorcycle Area and has been the site of the 5K Mud Endeavor, along with frequent, low-level motorcycle use the past 20 years.

Yoho said he’s been in the motorcycle racing business for 43 years, most of it operating out of the Pasco County Fairgrounds in Dade City. He said he wants to allow a small number of friends who race to use the track, adding “we’ve already got a supercross track (at the disputed site) and they don’t know we’re in there.

“I want to add something to Hernando County. I love this place,” he said. “We’re not going to change the environment. The county wants to do it right.”

“From our viewpoint, seven motorcycles isn’t much,” Johnson added.  

This time, landowners campaigned to get opponents of the project to fill out notarized affidavits detailing how the plan would harm them. They hired attorney John Thomas to help present their case to the commission, including a map that showed there are 25 horse farms within 1.5 miles of Yoho’s parcel.

Thomas said noise from the much larger Croom Motorcycle Area is never a problem because it’s farther away and covered by a forest canopy that muffles the sound: “There’s been no sound dampening,” he said of the bikers using Yoho’s parcel, which is excavated land once used as a sand mine.

Two of the organizers, Kim Rouse Holzwart and John Holzwart of the Spotted Dance Ranch, a 10-acre, horse-breeding farm at 29384 Wildlife Lane, say they would suffer from the motorcycle noise. Another is Fannin Hill Farm under the ownership of Larry and Judy Fannin, 29495 Wildlife Lane, which holds two-day horse shows.

In a letter, Kim stated the neighborhood is a quiet, peaceful area containing equestrian businesses that could be “destroyed” by the proposal because the noise is “excruciatingly and painfully loud,” exceeding 100 decibels on her farm. Holzworth said she summoned Hernando County Code Enforcement to the area on June 3, 2020, to listen to the motorcycle noise, with Yoho receiving a citation as a result. She suggested using berms or barriers to limit the off-site noise levels to 40 decibels. 

She also accused Yoho of committing “retaliation, bullying, and threats” against her neighbors.

Neighbor Robert McCune played a video taken from his property showing noise levels from 65 to 75 decibels. County Planning and Zoning Director Ron F. Pianta said the county regulates the level of both sustained noise coming from a property for 10 minutes (75 decibels) and a momentary noise limit (85 decibels). Referring to the video he said, “What I saw did not exceed that level.”

Human hearing can be damaged at 120 decibels.

Protest leader Judith Fannin of nearby Fannin Hill Farm indicated the meeting was so important to her she showed up, even though she said her husband Larry (a cancer patient) was having surgery at the same time.

Fannin said her farm offers numerous equestrian services, including hosting five horse shows a year. “The noise is shrieking and continuous,” she pleaded. “You can’t imagine the stress in our lives.”

The commission was also moved by a policewoman living nearby who works at the Pinellas County Jail despite suffering from PTSD: “I’ve been fighting Mr. Yoho for my peace of mind for 20 years.”   

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