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Alachua County Commission approves a Zero Waste Grant, denies a special exception for a motorcycle practice facility for the second time

Commissioner Ken Cornell asks Tom Parsons questions about his private motorcycle practice facility

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At their April 12 meeting, the Alachua County Commission approved a Zero Waste Grant (but also decided to stop using the word “zero”) and denied an application for a special exception for a private motorcycle practice facility for the second time.

Zero Waste Grant

The board approved a Zero Waste Grant for the purpose of spurring innovation and encouraging the enhancement of zero waste programs in the community. The grants can be used for reuse and repair, recycling, research, or a number of other activities. Recipients are limited to non-governmental, nonprofit, and for-profit entities that are located in Alachua County, including individuals if they’re not part of a corporation or business. The grants will provide reimbursement for funds spent for the creation of new waste-reduction activities or the enhancement of existing ones; nonprofits can get 25% of the grant up front instead of having to spend money and request a reimbursement later. $200,000 in funds have been identified that were originally allocated elsewhere but unspent. In future years, the grant would probably be funded by tipping fees at the transfer station. Grants will be limited to $40,000 per recipient.

During citizen comment, Mark Goldstein praised the program but said he didn’t like the word “zero because governments should never be deceptive, and I know you don’t want to be, but zero is a political word… It’s not zero. Okay?”

Commissioner Ken Cornell said he agreed with Goldstein that “we should really stop calling it a Zero Waste program. I think we should call it a reduced waste program because I think that’s just honest speak, and I think every time we say ‘zero,’ there’s a whole part of our society that just stops listening because they know that’s not realistic.”

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Gus Olmos, Director of Solid Waste & Resource Recovery, said staff had no objection to the change in the name of the program, so the board referred that to staff to bring back recommended changes.

The grant was approved unanimously.

Motorcycle practice facility denied a second time

The board also considered whether to grant a special use exception to allow a private motorized vehicle practice facility on a 20-acre parcel in a rural agriculture area of NW 62nd Avenue near CR 235. This matter previously came before the board on October 27, 2020, when it was denied.

The staff presentation found that the intensity of the land use was not compatible with surrounding land uses. They also had concerns about noise. The staff opinion was that “the proposed use as a private motorized practice facility on this site is not and cannot be made compatible with surrounding existing land uses, including surrounding residential homes… Permitting this use through a special exception would not be consistent with protection of the health, safety, and welfare of the public.” Staff recommended denying the application.

During testimony by neighbors of the property, staff acknowledged that although neighbors complained about the noise, there are no regulations about noise generated by riding motorcycles; the issue at hand was about the existence of a facility that requires a special exception because more than 200 cubic yards of dirt were moved. The closest neighbors were mixed in their support for the facility, with the two closest neighbors supporting the application and several other property owners asking the board to deny it.

Several commissioners offered compromises; Commissioner Mary Alford suggested limiting riding to a few hours a day “on a not everyday schedule.” Tom Parsons, who is the son of the property owner and an X-Games competitor who rides the motorcycles at the facility, responded that “compromise [is] all I’ve been looking for.” He said he travels a lot, so there’s no problem with limiting the riding to about 180 days a year or limiting it to weekdays or working hours. He said if he could move the facility somewhere else and start over, he would, but he had sunk a lot of his savings into building the course: “I’m just trying to get anything from it at all because there’s nothing else I can really do.” He said he would only use the facility for about five more years before retiring from the sport. 

Commissioners then tacked to the issue that the track was built without a permit. The Parsons family testified that they didn’t know they needed a permit. Cornell said, “It bums me out because you are a gold medal guy. I want you in our community. I just don’t want you practicing next to all of our neighbors. But I want you in our community… [but] I don’t know what significantly changed since the last time I voted to deny it.” Cornell moved staff’s recommendation (to deny the application). 

Commissioner Mary Alford told a story about how sound travels, again bringing up the sound issue. She said, “I would love to say yes to you because I think you sound like a really cool guy and you’re doing really cool stuff… I’m just trying to reconcile the rules that we have in place and make this work… I still can’t make that seem to happen.”

Tom Parsons offered a time limit on the permit: “maybe there is something where it’s like a 10-year max or something… and then the permit process has to start again… I’m hoping I get five years.” He said he could start restoring the property to its original configuration after he retired. 

Commissioner Anna Prizzia said she had “a hard time believing that you would sink all of your savings into something that you were only planning to use for three to five years.” Parsons said he had been investing in himself and his career: “I had to invest in myself to keep the level of competition I was at.”

Prizzia also pointed out that he built it without a permit: “That’s why you’re here, not because the County is using undue force… when you are conflicting with the neighbors and there is a major compatibility issue, and there is nothing today in the substantial evidence that has shown me you have tried to mitigate that impact and compatibility or that you have the funds or resources to be able to mitigate that… to me is sort of the challenge that I’m having and why I feel like I can’t move forward with approving this special exception.”

Parsons pointed out that if he restored the property to its original condition, he would be able to ride his motorcycle out there all the time, with no restrictions. 

Chair Marihelen Wheeler asked Growth Management what would be required to bring the property into compliance, but Missy Daniels said that would come in a developmental review, which Parsons would need to have if a special exception were approved. Daniels added that there is an outstanding code enforcement notice of violation, and if the special exception were not approved, staff’s recommendation in that process would be to return the property to its original state within a “reasonable time.”

Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said, “I sympathize with the guy, but process is process. You have to follow the rules… If people have issues with our policies, they should come and speak before we make those policies… I feel for him, but I just can’t, at this point, change our policies to do that. If I do it for him, I have to do it for everyone that comes along.”

Alford said that in her engineering career, “I cannot remember a single instance where our code enforcement or our building department made people tear down a building or take out the work that was done. They always went out of their way to help those people maintain their homes, so for us to say that we always follow the rules… [going out of our way to help people come into compliance] is something that we do all of the time.”

During public comment, Parson’s attorney, Bobi Frank, said that Parson had followed the rules as soon as he’d learned about them. “As soon as he realized he didn’t know he was breaking a rule, he rectified his actions immediately… It cannot be overstated enough that the only reason that we are here is because more than 200 cubic yards of dirt were moved. It is not noise. It is not the purpose. Right?… Frankly and respectfully, there has been zero evidence of non-compatibility. There have been opinions, no doubt about that. But that is not substantive and competent evidence. Quite the contrary.”

She said that “this time around a substantive competent record of evidence was laid and created… Your contention, Commissioner Cornell, is solely the fact he did it, didn’t realize he was violating the code and is now asking for permission to do it and you can’t see any situation where that would be contemplated by this commission? Why else would you have this process?… Something can be done. Specific requirements can be put in place.”

Prizzia responded, “Noise is an issue here. We are saying that the noise from the proposed use would not be compatible with the surrounding neighbors, and so noise is the major compatibility issue… I think by the time you went through the development process and then deconstructed it, you basically have not gotten to use the facility [before retiring in five years] so I just don’t see where this actually plays out in your favor.”

Cornell spoke directly to Parsons: “You are basically… asking for forgiveness, and I don’t think you should be upset at us. I actually think the person you should be upset at is the person you hired, the professional who built that facility without going through a special exception process… I think staff has provided more than enough basis listed in the staff report. For those reasons I’m going to vote to deny your special exception application.”

The commission voted unanimously to deny the application.

  • This bunch of hypoRATS talking about following the rules. They only want people to follow their rules. They didn’t care about following the governor’s rules during the pandemic. They didn’t denounce the school board member who failed to follow the rules set forth in the state constitution.

    These individuals want to maintain their control over the Alachua County Plantation. Remember that when you vote for single member districts on the next ballot.

    HypocRATS…all of them. Their followers – lemmings.

  • It’s too bad they didn’t pitch the motorcycle club as geared toward the LGBT somehow, like having a LGBT day/night every week. And talk about how the trans children and trans teens will be heartbroken to learn that their club cannot continue, especially since they just finished painting rainbows on all their bikes. And cry like Jen Psaki. Otherwise, a motorcycle club sounds like it REEKS of Toxic Masculinity…. and that simply Will Not Do.

  • Is the moto track just for one person riding, or for a group training and racing together? Maybe the latter should convert to electric cycles, and they’d be quieter — with “zero waste” pitched in too. Green light. I like *solving* problems, hence I’m not in politics.

  • It’s good they took the word “zero” out of zero waste. They don’t
    Have to pay me $40k for this idea, use the money to pay the participants : create a workforce program
    At Grace marketplace and put the homeless to
    Work picking up street trash instead of panhandling.
    “Don’t be a panhandler, be a canhandler”.
    Round them all up a sunrise, feed em breakfast, &
    Make GNV clean & green. Win win for all.

    • They can use work release guys from jail too…pick
      Up all the fast food trash & beer cans and straws that
      Are blowing around in the city.

  • Whatever happened to private property rights? You’ll
    Own nothing and be happy. The property is zoned agriculture. He don’t need a permit.

    • He should target practice everyday with friends on his land
      Instead…he has 2nd amendment rights and needs
      A place to practice & use his firearms safely.

  • Most of the comments above came from one IP address. One cranky old man who loved Rocky and Bullwinkle. He also is afraid of change, society and anyone who’s not just like him.

    • No, I believe I started the whole Rocky and Bullwinkle Show theme, but I only post as me. I bet you can’t wait to vote for Saco, Arreola, and whichever of the other incompetent commie losers run again. Keep on being a Superhero; mask up to Show. You. Care.

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