Sub-freezing temperatures may dissuade many RVers from thinking about camping, but RV parks and campgrounds have been top-of-mind in half-a-dozen municipalities east of the Mississippi this month. And thus far, at least, the response has been a unanimous thumbs-down on proposals that officials concluded were too big and too disruptive for their rural locations.
Two public hearings held Jan. 11, one in Maggie Valley in North Carolina and one in Hinton, Mass., resulted in adverse decisions for deep-pocketed developers with ambitious ideas. The Maggie Valley board of aldermen approved a six-month moratorium on new campgrounds and RV parks within town limits, jeopardizing plans for revitalizing a mothballed tourist attraction. Hinton’s zoning board of appeals, meanwhile, rejected a special permit application from Northgate Resort Ventures to build a 317-site RV resort on property currently used as a family-owned summer camp for kids.
Other significant, pending RV campground applications include a proposed 300-site resort proposed for the shores of Lake Anna in Virginia, as well as a 304-site RV resort next to the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. A planning commission hearing on the Lake Anna proposal, continued from December because of the sheer volume of opposing comments that had yet to be heard, was scheduled for Jan. 5 but was postponed to Jan. 19 because of snow. Once that hearing is concluded, the commission will make its recommendation to the Spotsylvania County board of supervisors—and a possible second round of hearings may follow.
Meanwhile, plans by Blue Water Development, which has signed a lease with the Mashantucket tribe to develop a campground catering largely to casino patrons, will be heard by the Preston wetlands commission Jan. 18 and the town’s planning and zoning commission Jan. 25. The off-reservation site is next to Avery Lake, where the developers want to build a 118-foot floating dock and a 12-foot-wide boardwalk across wetlands for golf carts to access 27 safari tent sites, but questions have been raised about who—if anyone—actually owns the small lake. The wetlands commission already held a hearing Dec. 21, at which a Bluewater representative made a two-hour presentation; the Jan. 18 meeting will hear from the public.
Elsewhere, developers for the proposed Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort (KBER), a $40 million project straddling a county line outside Midway, KY, are seeking permission to apply for a state permit to build their own sewage treatment plant. Although the Woodford County Board of Adjustments granted the project a conditional use permit in May for KBER’s 98 acres in its jurisdiction, that was before most local residents understood the scope of the project—and once they did, the response was overwhelmingly negative. Still, with the conditional permit already issued, the town’s only recourse to block the project was to deny KBER’s request to tie into the Midway sewage treatment plant.
Thus rebuffed, KBER concluded it “has no other option but to build its own private sewage treatment plant,” KBER attorney Hank Graddy told the board of adjustments, as he argued last month for an amendment to the conditional use permit. Although KBER’s initial proposal was for approximately 1,000 RV sites and park models, Graddy emphasized that only 390 RV sites and 82 cottages are planned for the Woodford County side of the property, and that proposed development of the adjacent 142 acres in Scott County had been withdrawn “in response to criticism that this proposal was ‘too big.’” Scott County’s planning commission agenda for Jan. 13, however, lists the KBER application only as “postponed.”
Meanwhile, the Nadi Group, which drew up the plans for the Kentucky mega-resort, still shows the project in its entirety, including an aquatic park, sports courts, a business center, a fitness and yoga center, spa services, a farmer’s market, food services with seating for 400, a 525-person-capacity amphitheater, and an educational center with a 100-person capacity.
The vote in Maggie Valley came following disclosure of plans by a Myrtle Beach, S.C., developer to revive and upgrade the Ghost Town in the Sky, a locally cherished amusement park that has been closed more than it’s been open since 2002. Reopening the park, however, raises numerous logistical issues—not least among them, the problem of finding adequate housing for at least 200 year-round relatively low-paid employees in a county where home prices have lurched upward 33.7% in just the past year. Developer Frankie Wood thinks more RV campgrounds would be part of the solution. A majority of the town’s approximately 1,700 residents don’t agree, resulting in the Jan. 11 vote for a moratorium while town officials complete its unified development ordinance.
Other developers trying to jump on the RV campground bandwagon are running into similar headwinds, often because they’re trying to realize economies of scale by thinking big—in rural areas that want to think small. In mid-central Florida, for example, a proposal to build the 550-site North Pasco RV Resort on 131 acres zoned for rural use, prompted an opposing petition that garnered more than 1,000 signatures. But despite passionate pleas from local residents, the county planning commission voted to amend the Pasco comprehensive land-use plan, setting the stage for a confrontation at a public hearing Feb. 8.
Such opposition isn’t confined to the right side of the country, of course. In Larimer County, Colorado, a proposal to build a 373-site RV campground on 320 acres in the Rockies foothills already has provoked a storm of opposition from neighboring residents, despite being still in the very early stages of the permitting process. More than a thousand pages of universally negative comments—some from residents who claim to also be RVers—have been posted on the county website, pointing out that the proposal would create the biggest campground in all of Colorado in an area that has no obvious need for such a facility.
As one local resident noted, the proposed Colorado Base Camp “has no recreation you would expect to find supporting a campground. There are no hiking trails, rivers, streams or lakes close by…. The proposed campground has no sustainable future. Who would camp there? Why would you camp there?”
Andy Zipser is the author of Renting Dirt, the story of his family’s experiences owning and operating a Virginia RV park. The fascinating book, recently published, is available at many large bookstores and at Amazon.com.