BMX track proposed for park in Mount Airy is rejected by council Panel members may drop plan to lease 44 acres

November 07, 1997|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Mount Airy officials have ruled out plans for a BMX track at Watkins Park and may abandon plans to lease the 44-acre site from the county.

Town officials began negotiating with the county to lease the park for a bicycle motocross track four months ago. But protests from residents persuaded the Town Council to reject the BMX track proposal 3-2 Monday.

Residents of nearby East Church Street said race patrons would park on their street and the track would generate noise and dust, marring the serenity of the park on Ridge Road (Route 27), south of Watersville Road.

The council has not voted on a proposed $1-a-year, 20-year lease with the county for the park. Mayor Gerald R. Johnson was out of town this week and could not be reached for comment. He has not made a recommendation to the council.

But Council President R. Delaine Hobbs reported that the mayor saw no benefit in leasing the park without the track.

"He was counting on the income from the track to offset the loss of maintenance money," Hobbs said.

The town receives $3,000 a year from the county to maintain the park. It would lose that income with the lease. However, track backers would have paid $5,000 a year to rent park space for the track.

The loss of Watkins Park "is a minor setback in terms of an ideal location," said Kieth Buswell of Mount Airy, who organized a nonprofit group to run the track.

"We're still going to charge ahead and look for another place," Buswell said.

Plans called for a 2-acre track, open to the public without charge six days a week. Fees from weekly races would have covered the sponsoring organization's costs, including liability insurance.

Buswell said he expected the track proposal to generate "not in my backyard" sentiment." He said he could address concerns about issues such as liability and safety, but couldn't argue aesthetics.

"The opinion in the minds of the people voting was that [the track] wouldn't look good. There's no way I can argue that," he said.

Neighboring residents said they didn't oppose BMX racing, but didn't want the track near their homes. They said the track would attract "outsiders."

"I'm all for it, just not in Watkins Park," said Marsha Pickett, a Church Street resident.

Pickett, who parks on the street because she doesn't have a driveway, said she fears parking spaces would be used by people attending Sunday races.

Said Hobbs: "The park is to meet the needs of our community, not people from Baltimore, Washington and Frederick and God knows where."

Councilman David W. Pyatt, liaison to the town Parks and Recreation Commission, said the BMX track was not appropriate in Watkins Park and offered to help Buswell find another site.

Councilmen C. Robert Mead and William E. Wagner voted against barring the track from the park. Mead asked for a delay on the vote to obtain a legal opinion on subleasing the park. Wagner argued that the vote should be delayed until Johnson could attend.

Pub Date: 11/07/97

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