NC Appeals Court upholds ruling favoring motocross center in Davidson County

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  • The N.C. Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court ruling allowing for a new motocross training center in rural Davidson County.
  • Appellate judges agreed the Davidson Board of Adjustment violated its own rules when voting on the motocross center's special-use permit in May 2021.

A unanimous N.C. Court of Appeals panel has affirmed a trial court’s ruling in favor of a couple who want to open a motocross training center in Davidson County. County officials had rejected the center in July 2021.

Appellate judges agreed with Superior Court Judge Susan Bray’s January 2022 ruling that the county had violated its own rules when rejecting permits for the motocross center. It was slated for a 143-acre parcel in rural Davidson County.

While the county was willing to allow the project to proceed, neighboring property owners Timothy Miller and Lyle Loflin intervened in the case.

Legal problems stemmed from a May 2021 Davidson Board of Adjustment hearing. The county’s zoning ordinance required the board to vote on four different standards before issuing a special-use permit for the motocross facility. Standards included public health and safety requirements, as well as a provision that the new development would “maintain or enhance the value of contiguous property.”

“Due to the rural nature of the area in question, intervenors were concerned about ‘the noise, lighting, and dust’ operating a motocross facility would create,” according to the Appeals Court opinion from Judge John Arrowood. “Timothy Miller stated that because the facility would operate in a valley, he was concerned about the noise funneling toward his property. Lyle Loflin stated that he was concerned with barriers and individuals using the facility trespassing onto his property.”

“Prior to the hearing, the Board was misinformed as to the correct voting threshold required in order to issue a special use permit,” Arrowood wrote. “The Board believed that in order to grant a special use permit a super-majority vote (4/5) on each standard was required. However, a change in the ordinance, which came into effect in January 2021, allowed for a special use permit to be awarded after a simple majority vote on each standard.”

The board voted 4-1 or 5-0 on three of the four standards but voted 3-2 on the standard related to maintaining or enhancing the value of neighboring property. “The chairman of the Board … then declared ‘that one of the standards failed and it is the Board’s obligation to deny the request,’” Arrowood wrote. “Thereafter, members of the Board motioned to ‘table the application.’”

By the time the case came back before the board a month later, the senior assistant county attorney informed the board that it had conducted the May hearing “under a false premise.” A unanimous board rescinded its earlier votes and reopened the hearing. The board took new votes in July 2021. This time the application fell short on three of four standards.

Ryan and Amanda Pope, the couple seeking the permit, went to court. They argued that only “legal error” prevented them from getting their permit in May 2021. The county responded that it had taken no final action at the initial May hearing and that “every deliberative body can change its mind prior to making its decision formally.”

Bray ruled in favor of the Popes in 20122. Now the Appeals Court has endorsed Bray’s decision, ruling against arguments from neighboring property owners opposing the motocross center.

Arrowood and colleagues rejected arguments related to the Davidson board’s decision to table the motocross center application after its initial vote. Critics of the planned center raised arguments about the adjustment board’s use or misuse of Robert’s Rules of Order during the May 2021 hearing.

“[T]he trial court’s finding that the Board’s decision to table the application until the following Board meeting was improper procedure is not the core issue before this Court,” Arrowood wrote. “Instead, it is the fact that the Board held a vote on the special use permit at the May hearing which should have resulted in the permit being granted, eradicating the necessity for a second Board meeting. To be clear, Robert’s Rules of Order have no connection to the central issue on appeal, which is the fact that the Board acted pursuant to a misapplication of their own zoning ordinance in denying petitioners’ application at the May hearing.”

“[U]pon reading the record from the May meeting and interpreting the ordinance,
the trial court found the denial of the special use permit was an error of law,” Arrowood wrote. “The county conceded this error at [a] hearing and the trial court entered its order appropriately.”

Judges Allegra Collins and April Wood joined Arrowood’s opinion.