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Teresa Earnhardt plans 317-acre outdoor venture

Citing potential for noise and traffic, neighbors oppose plans by wife of late racing great Dale Earnhardt

Friday, Dec. 21, 2012

Despite opposition from neighbors concerned about traffic and noise, Teresa Earnhardt, wife of the late racing great Dale Earnhardt, received a permit this week to create a 317-acre outdoor activities center on rural N.C. 3 in Mooresville.

The venture will include horseback riding/nature trails, commercial stables, tent camping, endurance courses, archery ranges, live outdoor theater, rodeos, fishing ponds, a lodge, an open-sided pavilion and paint ball courses, according to Earnhardt’s permit application at the Iredell County Department of Planning, Development and Transportation Services in Statesville.

Earnhardt also intends to host farm and environmental educational outings, according to the application she filed Nov. 20. “One of the aims is to enhance awareness of nature and natural settings,” Earnhardt says in her application.

Dick Brolin of Piedmont Design Associates in Mooresville spoke for Earnhardt at an hour-long public hearing in Statesville Thursday night called by the Iredell County Board of Adjustment. Earnhardt sat in the audience but didn’t address the board, which approved the permit 6-0.

Brolin said the site has nearly 5 miles of trails -- basically “farm roads” used for existing farming operations on the property. Parking for 300 people is planned, with overflow parking available on numerous grassy areas, he said.

The project will have 25 to 32 stalls for boarding horses, Brolin said. Poultry houses on the site will be torn down for a horse arena that could host rodeos and other horse competitions, he told the board. A wildlife viewing area is planned and “limited” tent camping for Scouts and “the casual overnight camper,” he said.

Charlotte lawyer Ben Ellis, also representing Earnhardt at the hearing, said the site would be available only to those with memberships, who would then have to make reservations. Activities also could be made available to horseback riding and fishing clubs and such non-profits as schools and the Girl Scouts, he said.

In her application, Earnhardt writes that all activity areas are “remote” from homes, with primary entrances and parking areas off a three-lane section of N.C. 3 -- a section widened when Dale Earnhardt Inc. was built.

“Significant woodland and farm lands separate group activities proposed from all neighboring residential uses,” Earnhardt says in her application.

Neighbors weren’t appeased. “The Earnhardt family has the ways and means to make sure they’re protected,” said Rhonda Bowles, who told the Board of Adjustment that people have parked without permission in her yard on N.C. 3 during events at Dale Earnhardt Inc. “We don’t. We’re looking for you to protect us.”

“This could be devastating to our community,” Jimmy Howard of nearby Sample Road told the board.

Residents said they’ve contended for years with late-night noise and people parking on their lawns for events at the nearby Dale Earnhardt Inc., the auto racing enterprise founded by the seven-time Winston Cup champion and for which Teresa Earnhardt continues to serve as secretary.

Board Chairman Michael Johnson told the dozen or so opponents in attendance that the uses proposed by Earnhardt are allowed by special use permit under the property’s rural agricultural zoning designation. Iredell County commissioners set an area’s zoning, he said.

Johnson said he agreed noise is an issue. “I’m sad to say Iredell County has a noise ordinance but doesn’t enforce it, because the county doesn’t have the equipment,” he told the residents.

Johnson made the motion to approve the permit, adding such conditions as having all parking be on site, that there be no alcohol sales and the state Department of Transportation evaluate the adequacy of entrances and exists.

Asked by the Observer for her overall thoughts on the project as she left the Iredell County Government Center, Earnhardt smiled and replied, “Everything’s been said.”

Charlotte lawyer Curtis Elliott, who also represented Earnhardt at the hearing, told the Observer no cost estimate has been established for the project.

Marusak: 704-987-3670. On Twitter: @ jmarusak.