By Kirsten Valle
SPENCER -- The Board of Aldermen decided to annex more than 230 acres Tuesday, a long-anticipated move that brings the town a step closer to the proposed High Rock International Raceway.
Aldermen voted 5-0, with Michael Smith absent, to approve the petition, submitted by High Rock Properties LLC in January. Spencer will annex 239 acres, extending its limits to the north partially beyond Interstate 85 and to the Yadkin River, effective June 30.
The town has had its eye on the site for months; if the High Rock International Raceway, a $20 million motorsports complex, is developed there, it could mean significant economic gains for Spencer, some have argued.
"This area down there is either going to go forward or it's not," Alderman Randy Gettys said. "We're the closest neighbors, and we're the ones who are going to be helped or hurt by this. I would rather us be in control of our future than the county."
The crowd packed in Spencer's meeting room Tuesday night applauded.
During a half-hour public hearing, citizens spoke in favor of and against the annexation, though most of the discussion centered around what could be built on the land, rather than the land itself.
Pamela Foy of Davie County opposed the annexation and the proposed raceway because of the land's historical value: It is part of the largest contiguous historic district in North Carolina, she said.
"I think it's very important ... that you have spelled out what your heritage means to you," she told the board. " ... I hope you consider this and consider the nice town you live in."
Foy said the racetrack would be noisy and wouldn't fit in with Spencer's image of a bedroom community.
Ann Brownlee of Salisbury, president of the Trading Ford Historic District Preservation Association and an outspoken opponent of the racetrack from the beginning, agreed with Foy.
"We can really have a vital historic site if we work together," she said. "I'm not against development and I don't like to be portrayed that way, but I kind of feel like, can't we have some special things left?"
The land in question has been the site of Civil War battles, a historic covered bridge and, possibly, a Revolutionary War camp, Brownlee said.
"You cannot spit out there without hitting history," she said. "This can be restored. It can be a source of pride."
Others said the racetrack, if developed there, would bring more pride -- and economic opportunity -- to Spencer.
"The point is, Spencer needs a larger tax base," said Jack Fisher, who owns land that borders the satellite annexation. "The racetrack will bring that tax base and open the area to more economic development. As far as a historical site, we all live on historical sites if you think about it. Progress has to go on.
"I think the racetrack would be good for Spencer. I think it'd be good for everybody."
Again, the crowd applauded.
Bob Oswald, 410 Seventh St., said he was in favor of the development and resulting tax base, but had a few concerns, including possible contamination on the site and where money for the racetrack would come from.
"If we're going to do this right, it's going to take some money," he said. " ... You have to realize that this land represents 15 to 20 percent of the land mass of Spencer. What we do with it is very important."
Frank McGuire, a partner in the racetrack project, addressed those concerns and made his case to the board.
"We got a clean bill of health from the state," he said, adding that SM & amp;E, an environmental consulting firm, tested groundwater and evaluated other areas of the site.
There is an issue resulting from a coal and chemical train crossing U.S. 29 -- it will cost about $180,000 to fix -- and a mound of construction-related trash, McGuire said, but few other environmental issues.
As far as the funding, investors in the project are in the last stages of raising the $20 million necessary for the racetrack and surrounding complex, he said.
McGuire and Dave Risdon, the property owner, have paid off many of their debts and are whittling down others, McGuire said.
In the end, the racetrack's profits will offset its initial costs, he said. Similar complexes charge drivers $10,000 per day per team in rent, plus the cost of hotels and food.
"Our prices won't be that much, but it well supports the payback of the money we're going to borrow," he said.
McGuire also addressed a concern over the noise: He plans to build a sound wall, similar to those lining parts of I-85, around the complex.
"We want to be good corporate citizens," McGuire said. " ... This is going to be a big project. We have to do it right. We want to do it right."
Dan Patterson, an official with Norfolk Southern, was concerned about train tracks on the property.
McGuire said that had already been straightened out: He got a permit from the state and is working with railroad officials to build a $1.5 million bridge across the tracks.
During their brief deliberation, board members reminded the crowd that the issue at hand was annexing the property, not approving plans for a racetrack.
"We all have a lot of questions, but we're looking at the land annexation," Mayor Alicia Bean said.
Gettys said the issues surrounding the raceway -- noisy cars and development that will or won't be profitable -- could be worked out later.
Board member C.E. Spear said the annexation was unique because it was being offered voluntarily.
"This is a good thing," he said. " ... The better the town controls what they're involved with, the better chance we have of succeeding. This vote will have long-reaching effects."
The only concern raised came from Sam Morgan and regarded contaminants on the property and whether the town would be held liable for the cleanup.
Bean said the rules governing that were different for voluntary annexations and said she didn't see a problem with moving forward.
"I think it's a win-win situation," she said.
In other business Tuesday night, board members:
* Voted 5-0 to award a contract to grant writer Alana Denton. Denton will be paid $45 per hour, plus expenses such as mileage, training, office materials and postage, and the town will pay $40 per month for use of an online grant database.
* Unanimously authorized the construction of crosswalks downtown for about $33,000, $18,700 of which will be paid by the state.
* Amended the wording of ordinances governing noise, roller skates and skateboards and animals.
* Decided to hold a budget workshop at 6 p.m. Tuesday and a public hearing on the budget at their next meeting, to be held at 7 p.m. June 13.
Contact Kirsten Valle at 704-797-7683 or email@example.com.