County denies request for special exception for private motorcycle practice facility
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
During their October 27 evening meeting, the Alachua County Commission denied an application for a special exception to allow a private motorized vehicle practice facility on a 20.55-acre parcel that’s located in the rural agriculture land use category and has an agricultural zoning. This land use was added to the code in October of 2018, and the practice facility was built in 2019 without requesting the special exception. Code enforcement went to the property in 2020 following an online complaint from a neighbor and discovered the facility.
The site is located off CR 235 in the western part of Alachua County and is surrounded on the north and east by a plant nursery, with some single-family houses on the other sides. The practice facility consists of several jumps, an obstacle circuit, and two retention ponds, covering about 10 acres. All the surrounding parcels have agricultural zoning, and there are about 20 homes within a quarter mile of the facility.
The staff report cited an Alachua County noise ordinance that is specific to recreational vehicles, such as the motorcycles used at this facility; the ordinance prohibits use of these vehicles that creates sound that “is plainly audible at a distance of 50 meters or 50 feet or more away from the real property line of properties that are used for residential purposes.” Based on staff’s research finding that there is really no way to modify the motorcycles to make them more quiet or reconfigure the site, staff recommended denying the special exception.
In response to questions from Commissioner Mike Byerly, staff members confirmed that the requirement for the special exception was triggered by moving more than 200 cubic yards of dirt.
The applicant, Gregory Parsons, said they he built the facility so his son could develop his skills in freestyle, which is how he makes a living. He said that during a year-long property search in 2018, he had checked Alachua County codes and the Uniform Land Development Code to make sure there weren’t any codes that would prevent the construction and use of the practice facility. He said he didn’t find anything, and he was unaware at the time that the ordinance concerning the special exception was adopted in late 2018, shortly before he began the process of purchasing the property. He said they’ve put $90,000 into the facility.
They used the facility for a year without any problems before an anonymous online complaint brought codes enforcement officers to the property. In lieu of writing a citation, the County let Parsons submit the application for the special exception.
Parsons said that of the 33 signatures on the petition opposing the special exception, only 10 of them lived within a quarter mile of his property. One signer lived in Gainesville and “confused 62nd Avenue and 62nd Street.”
Parsons said the facility is typically used 30-60 minutes at a time, 3-4 days a week. It can’t be used for a few days after it rains, and his son normally (pre-COVID) travels about 4-6 months of the year. He also said that three of the five closest neighbors wrote letters in support of the facility.
Parsons also argued that the noise ordinance was poorly written because it doesn’t specify the decibels for an infraction: “What the ordinance means in reality is that if you can hear the vehicle, the operator is in violation of the ordinance. End of the story. This means that almost nobody could even start up, let alone ride, any recreational vehicle on a lot of the property in the county. It would appear this section was put in to allow the county to shut down any recreational vehicle user in any type in any location if it can be heard on another property.”
5 people who were designated as affected parties called in to oppose the special exception, arguing that the use was noisy and not compatible with surrounding properties. Marsha Hensley said, “I just want to say that I don’t know anything about decibel points… But I can tell you without a doubt I can see and I can hear the motor bikes. They are so loud.” She added that she can’t hear her TV when they are riding.
One supporter, Joshua Irwin, showed a map with only 12 houses in the quarter-mile radius. Irwin said his house is “by far” the closest to the facility, that he supported the facility, and that he spoke for another neighbor whose property is nearby. He said that Parsons had voluntarily stopped practicing during his kids’ nap times, and he said another neighbor routinely drives his ATV to his mailbox, which is also “plainly audible” from his house. Laura Irwin added that one of the strongest opponents to the special exception owns property on the other side of the nursery but doesn’t live on that land; she lives in Gainesville. She pointed out that it is common for people in rural areas to have recreational vehicles that are “plainly audible” to neighbors.
During his rebuttal, Parsons argued that they can meet all the conditions for the permit except the noise part, “which creates an impossible standard.”
Tom Parsons, the son of the property owner, said their goal is to be a good neighbor: “We stopped riding when Jamie’s mother told us she watched the news from 6 to 7. When Josh told us his child naps from 1 to 3, we stopped. If anybody told us we’re having a birthday party, we’re doing this… we would do any of that. It’s not a big deal. I can adjust my time of day, everything, so easily that for me I’d rather be a good neighbor and make the times I ride the best for the people around me than be a nuisance.”
Byerly said, “It stretches credibility quite a bit for me that someone can spend $90,000 and spend four or five, six months building something like that and have knowledge in other counties and go through our code and not feel that it was worthwhile to take two minutes to make a phone call. I’m struggling with that. I hate in situations like this to be a kill joy. People like to have fun and riding motorcycles is fun… I firmly believe your right to have fun kind of ends where your neighbor’s misery begins… I don’t think it’s fair to compare it to an unmuffled Harley or your neighbor’s ATVs. I have those coming down my road. It doesn’t bother me. It goes by, I hear it, it’s gone. It’s not the same thing. You can’t compare background occasional noise levels to two to three hours of constant erratic buzzing rising and falling where you can’t escape from it. That’s in a completely different category… So I’m going to support the staff’s recommendation to deny. I tend to come down on the side of people to want to enjoy the peace and quiet of their homes.”
Staff clarified that if the special exception were denied, the property would have to be restored to its original condition.
Another neighbor called in during public comment to express his support for the special exception: “The one thing I just want to reiterate with noise is the word motorcross and supercross is being turned out a lot. And what Tom does is not that. This is not 12 to 20 people on motorcycles riding for 4 to 10 minutes. This is 1, 2 guys that are riding for 30 seconds and then they stop and say that was good, let me try it again. So if I had to rank noises around here, Gatorback, which is motorcross, supercross, and a good 2 miles away, is higher on my list of distractions than Tom, which is less than a quarter mile.”
The motion to deny the special exception passed, 4-0, with Commissioner Ken Cornell absent.
Tom Parsons has started a petition requesting that the County revise their noise ordinance in regards to recreational vehicles. Over 4000 people have signed it to date.
This story has been updated to reflect new information about the online complaint and the person who started the petition.
If the property is zoned agriculture than they don’t need
A permit. I’d start to target practice with my guns on
The berm they made because we still have 2nd Amendment
Rights…the property owner has property rights! This is total
Welcome to The People’s Republic of Alachua County!
This is just a precursor to the Growth Management amendment that the left wingnuts just voted for. It will pit neighbor against neighbor and if you are not goose stepping in line with current political leadership you will be penalized.