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Camp plans opposed

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By John Barnhart

A plan by Garland Simmons to build a 16-acre campground, with five cabins, doesn't sit well with a number of his neighbors. The campground is off Meador Spur Road. Members of the Bedford County Planning Commission also had questions about it when the request for the necessary special use permit came before them Monday night.

Those questions included the fact that the cabins have already been built. Mark Jordan, a county planner, said Simmons had applied for a permit in August 2006. Jordan said that there were some problems with the concept plan. The county never received a revised plan for the camp, however planning department staff learned this past February that the cabins had been built, but not occupied. A miniature golf course had also been partially completed, but the site had not been used on a commercial basis yet. Jordan said that he and the county's building inspector went to the site and looked it over. The special use permit request had never been withdrawn and planning department staff brought it before the planning commission for a public hearing.

The planning commission voted unanimously to postpone a decision on the special use permit request to give planning department staff time to work out conditions that would mitigate neighbors' concerns.

Shannon Simmons, Garland Simmons' son, represented his father at the hearing.

Simmons said that his father has a farm that is almost impossible to operate profitably. In order to continue farming, he has to bring in other sources of income.

According to Simmons, his father thought, from conversations with planning department staff, that he could go ahead and build.

Residents living adjacent to the campground said that they were concerned about the impact it would have on their property values. They also worried about who it would bring virtually into their backyards. Furthermore, there were concerns about adding congestion to narrow roads used by farm vehicles.

They were also disturbed that they had not heard about Simmons' plan earlier.

“We are just now hearing about it,” noted Elizabeth Griffeth.

Thomas Woods, another neighbor, said that building the cabins without first getting the required permit was an act of arrogance. In addition, Woods felt that Simmons had deceived him. He said that when he saw a power line being installed, he asked Simmons about it and Simmons told him it was for power equipment to water cattle.

Danny Jordan said that Simmons told him the same story. Jordan said he felt that he had been lied to and wondered what else Simmons had in mind.

Shannon Simmons, replying to this, said that watering cattle, in order to keep them out of a nearby creek, was his father's original intention when he installed the power line. He had not planned on building cabins.

“It just escalated from there,” he said.

Not all speakers opposed Simmons' plan.

Walter Nance said that it would be a good project because it would bring business to the area.

“”They [the plan's opponents] could buy 125 acres like I did and they they wouldn't have to look at anybody,” he commented.

Planning commissioners were concerned about the vagueness in Simmons' plan. District 7 Planning Commissioner Curtis Stephens wanted a plan for policing the campground. He said that nice people sometimes have parties that get out of hand and felt that it would be extreme to depend on the sheriff to handle security.

District 5 Planning Commissioner Steve Stevick noted the plan called for a baseball field. He said that he can't reconcile a baseball field with Simmons' statement that the campground would be a couples' getaway. He said that he is inclined to be favorable to the request, but was troubled by inconsistencies and was concerned that the campground could have an adverse impact on the neighbors.

District 2 Planning Commissioner Lynn Barnes and Commission Chairman Frederic Fralick both felt that the campground was an inappropriate use for the property. He also said that Simmons' plan has many unanswered questions.

“I'm very concerned about the unknowns,” commented District 6 Planning Commissioner Robin Hartman.

Others, while noting problems with Simmons' plan, said that they oppose allowing a campground there. Stephens said that a campground is a permitted use for the agricultural zone that Simmons' land is in.

“I find it difficult to say to them you can't use this 16 acres for that,” Stephens said.

“If we don't allow them in agricultural areas, where are we going to put those?” asked District 1 Planning Commissioner Rick Crockett. “R-1 and R-2? I don't think so.”

District 3 Supervisor Steve Wilkerson was sympathetic with Simmons' need for additional sources of revenue from his farm. He said that the planning commission is going to have to go along with alternate forms of farm income if they intend to preserve the county's rural character. However, Wilkerson felt the way that Simmons went about it created a problem.

“I think Mr. Simmons got himself in a heap of trouble not being forthright with the neighbors,” he said.

Crockett, who agreed with Wilkerson, said the fact that the neighbors weren't given a chance to mitigate the campground's impact on their property didn't sit well with them.

The planning commission can impose conditions on a special use permit.

Crockett stipulated that he wants conditions that address outside lighting. He also asked planning department staff to tell him how the campground will affect the real estate tax Simmons will be assessed for on those 16 acres. Simmons' farm is currently under land-use, which taxes agricultural land at a lower rate. Crockett wants to know if approval of the special use permit for the campground will remove its acreage from land-use.

He also stated that Simmons' disregard for the county's zoning ordinance deprived citizens of the opportunity to have any input and wants Simmons to meet with the affected citizens.

“I would like you to take this opportunity to meet with them,” he told Simmons.

Planning department staff will work out conditions with Simmons and e-mail them to planning commission members. Citizens will also have the opportunity for input by e-mailing Mark Jordan at m.jordan@co.bedford.va.us.

In other business, the planning commission voted unanimously to recommend a special use permit for a substation by Southside Electrical Cooperative (SEC). The proposed substation, if approved by the board of supervisors, will be on a 5.7 acre site on Dickerson Mill Road.

According to Mike Bender, an SEC representative, the cooperative's Whitehouse substation is almost at its maximum capacity and will be unable to serve two new subdivisions that have been approved in its service area. He also said that the new substation will shorten existing circuits in that area, improving reliability.

The site chosen for the $2.3 million substation is directly under the American Electric Power (AEP) 138kv line that feeds the Whitehouse substation. Placing it under AEP line eliminates the need to construct a transmission line. Two alternate sites were rejected because using them would require SEC to build a $5 million access road, and the landowners were unwilling to sell. The landowner at the site chosen is willing to sell and SEC can get access to it via a state-maintained road.

The substation's neighbors oppose the idea. James Graham said that it will be “90 feet from my back door.”

“I get my electricity from AEP,” said Danny Chittum.

Chittum said that he will suffer loss of property value for the sake of something that won't bring him any benefit.

“I am opposed to being an uncompensated victim of this project,” he said.

“It's a money issue,” said Billy Butterworth, who believes that SEC could use another location that doesn't have houses nearby.

Mike Caldwell said he lives in a doublewide that is set on blocks and is worried that SEC may have to blast during site preparation.

“How am I going to know if my house shifts?” he asks.

Bender, in reply, said that part of Graham's property is in the 100-foot AEP right-of-way for its power line and that Graham's house was built after the power transmission line was installed. He added that that transmission line is clearly visible from the road.

He claimed that the substation has to be at the front of the property because the power tap into the AEP line must be at a tower. He also said that the property has a 215-foot elevation fall from front to back and tapping further back would require the construction of another tower.

“We don't anticipate using dynamite,” he said, speaking about the concern of vibrations from blasting.

Bender said if they do blast, they would have to go through a county permit process which will protect landowners.

“It's a very tough decision here,” said Crockett. “The fact remains, we've got to have it.”

The planning commission's approval contained the condition that SEC plant trees that are already at least 10-feet tall when they install the county-required vegetative buffer. This is intended to provide better screening of the substation at the beginning than planting less mature trees would. The maximum height of trees on one side of the substation is limited by AEP rules on the height of trees within its right-of-way.