Commission approves off-road track

All-terrain vehicle and motorcycle riders have been an endangered species in Prince William, but this week they got their first glimmer of hope for a legal place to ride.

The planning commission voted 5-3 to approve an off-road track on 108 acres of forested land on the border with Fauquier County.

Unlike the man who tried to build a track last year without permits near sensitive land around Manassas National Battlefield Park, the backers of this facility have sought legitimacy by working closely with county planners.

Family Off-Road Riders of Prince William County has 175 families as members with annual dues, and is chartered and insured, said Chris Crane, who spoke for the group at Wednesday’s hearing.

He said Prince William identified the problem of a lack of legal places to ride ATVs in 1999 and came out with a report in 2000 that:

? found ATV riding has no more injury liability than swimming, skateboarding, skiing and soccer;

? recommended the county purchase land for a riding facility and have a private entity operate it; and

? identified 10 potential sites for a facility.

The club is leasing land on one of those sites.

“We ride just for fun and, believe it or not, for relaxation,” Crane said, showing photos at the meeting of riders, some children. “I wanted to show this is really a family sport. It’s just not for silly old fools like me.”

Prince William has struggled with ATV issues since the 2000 report.

Last year, Prince William took a Manassas man to court because he began building a track without permits near Manassas National Battlefield Park. Also last year, a bill to require ATVs be registered went down in laughing defeat on the House floor.

Delegate Michele B. McQuigg, R-51st District, said her constituents complained about the lack of options to track down illegal riders in neighborhoods. However, rural delegates had more sway when they said their constituents would revolt if forced to register and put tags on another type of vehicle with the state.

This track will help solve the problem of illegal riders, club members said.

Karl Spiess said his son has wanted an ATV for several years. Some children in their Manassas neighborhood break the law and “cause havoc” with ATVs, but he is waiting for a legal place.

The Family Off-Road facility has its entrance in Fauquier County, putting traffic issues under the control of a neighboring jurisdiction, a fact that bogged down debate before the planning commission.

The special use permit requires turn lanes be built on Nokesville Road for traffic safety. The county zoning code requires the connecting 8-acre parcel be joined with the larger piece of land, but the county supervisors or county attorney will have to work out that issue, planning commissioners said. Club members said they plan to get access off Nokesville Road in Prince William, but commissioners told them legally that would require another public hearing to give citizens a chance to talk about traffic impacts.

Crane said turn lanes are not needed because the track does not generate much traffic, less than what comes out of his driveway: usually four to five riders a day.

He said turn lanes are too burdensome for the club’s finances. He said a junk yard near the county landfill has no turn lanes, but commissioners told him it is grandfathered. He went on: The county’s juvenile detention center on Va. 234, a church near Ashland Estates near the track, the intersection of Va. 234 and Joplin Road, the intersection of Aden Road and Nokesville Road, a day care center on Spriggs Road, a horse riding stable on Va. 28 — all without turn lanes, he said.

But speakers pointed out the permit allowed an upper limit of 130 riders at one time, and the planning commission lowered that limit to 60 riders.

Commissioner Donald White asked Crane what assurances the county has that the ATVs and motorcycles will have mufflers and won’t be too loud.

“Come visit us,” Crane said.

“What?” White asked.

“Come visit us. If you stand in our parking area … I will guarantee you will get more noise off Route 28 than you will hear from the motorcycles on our properties,” Crane said. For enforcement, a supervisor unlocks the gate and makes sure rules are followed each day, he said.

Gaye Sprause said the club has been riding on the land on the weekends for two years.

“I would like to invite everyone of you to come to my house and listen at the noise,” said Sprause, who lives on Nokesville Road. “Ask these people, how many of them live in Nokesville? How many of them want to hear it on the weekend at the front door when they have family over?”

According to Crane, county officials have allowed the track to be used while the club goes through the application process because it is not visible to the surrounding area.

Lelan Flory farms land next to the property and said the track is not invisible from Nokesville Road in the fall and winter when trees lose their leaves.

“How much smog and pollution is 130 of these little rice-burners going to put out at one time back there?” Flory asked.

Emissions are not cited as a problem by staff. The permit states no additional clearing of trees will be allowed. Already the track follows old logging trails or arms-length trails that did not require taking down mature trees, Crane said. Riders like trees and meandering trails, he said.

The club also had Sunday removed as a day it can operate: It will be open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. New conditions specify no grills, camping, campfires, concession stands or alcohol be allowed.

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors is scheduled to take up the permit Sept. 2.

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.