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Supervisors approve campground

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By John Barnhart

The Bedford County Board of Supervisors agreed, Monday night, that Garland Simmons’ request for a special use permit to build a campground on a portion of his farm would have been a simple process had he followed the rules. In the end, however, the supervisors approved the request.

    Simmons had applied for a permit in August 2006. There were some problems with the concept plan, according to Mark Jordan, a county planner. The county never received a revised plan for the camp, however planning department staff learned last February that the cabins had been built, but not occupied. The special use permit request had never been withdrawn and planning department staff brought it before the planning commission for a public hearing. After a postponement, the planning commission voted against recommending the permit by a 3-2 vote.

    District 1 Supervisor Dale Wheeler noted that there was “an elephant in the room.”

    “The elephant is that this project was built two years ago before they got caught,” he said. “That’s why we are having so much difficulty. This would have been much simpler to handle the right way.”

    “I’ll be honest about it,” said Disrtict 2 Supervisor Chuck Neudorfer, “we have a mushy set of circumstances.”

    Simmons’ neighbors were upset.

    “This was done two years ago without concern for the neighors,” said Carol Morgan during a public hearing on the permit.

    “What’s to stop it from going further?” asked Sherwood Martin, who noted that the five cabins in the campground were built without building permits.

    Thomas Woods said that he has seen lights on and movement in at least one cabin, as well as vehicles leaving.

    “Obviously somebody is occupying these cabins,” he said. “I worked 45 years in construction. You don’t occupy something that doesn’t have an occupancy permit.”

    Shannon Simmons, who represented his father, said that his father originally applied for the permit two years ago but got off course. He agreed that not applying for a building permit before starting construction was wrong.

    “Everybody makes mistakes,” he said.

    Simmons said that the farm industry is struggling and farmers are open for any legal way to bring in more income.

    He also disputed Woods’ claim that the cabins had been occupied, stating that Woods could not have seen activity in the cabins from his house without binoculars.

    Neudorfer, who had visited the site and been in one cabin, supported Woods’ contention.

    “In my opinion, it had been occupied,” he said.

    Simmons said that there had been people in the cabin, but that there had been no overnight occupancy.

    The permit request came with 38 conditions added by county planning staff. Some were added,  based on input from the neighbors, in an effort to meet the neighbors’ concerns. Bob Wandrei, an attorney representing Simmons, asked for elimination or modification of a few of them.

    “Basically, we have no complaint with most of them,” he said.

    Among those was one calling for a perimeter fence. Wandrei asked that this be removed. He said the area was already fenced. A majority of the supervisors agreed to eliminate this.

    Wheeler noted that this isn’t currently a requirement for campgrounds and he didn’t want to start one.

    “Hopefully, the Simmonses have enough sense to keep cattle out of the campground,” he said.

    “As I find myself regretably agreeing with Mr. Wheeler, I hope common sense will prevail,” commented Board Chairman John Sharp.

    Another condition that Wandrei objected to was a requirement for a pool fence around a pond on the campground. He noted that there are no swimming pools on the property.

    “Why would you put that around a pond?” asked Wheeler. “We start that, we could force every pond in Bedford County to be pool fenced.”

    At District 7 Gary Lowry’s request, they replaced the fence requirement with one for a “no swimming” sign.

    The supervisors also agreed with Wandrei’s request to modify a requirement for planting trees for screening. He asked to substitute white pines for the Leyland Cypress trees originally requested, stating that white pines grow fast and are native species.

    The supervisors ultimately approved Simmons’ campground special use permit by a 3-2 vote. District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard, Wheeler and Sharp voted in favor. Lowry and Neudorfer cast the dissenting votes. District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington was absent and District 3 Supervisor Roger Cheek abstained from both the discussion and the vote, citing a conflict of interest because he has business dealings with people involved in the dispute.

    “A person cannot make a living farming,” said Pollard. “I have a sign on my refrigerator, ‘Crime doesn’t pay. Neither does farming.’”

    Neudorfer said that the permit request has 38 conditions on it, which represent an effort to straighten it out.

    “The site plan is unclear,” he added. “At this point, I am totally uncomfortable that I totally understand what I am voting for.”

    Sharp, who cast the deciding vote, said that he understood Neudorfer’s objections. However, he said that neither he, nor the neighbors, nor Bedford County own the property in question. He noted the large number of conditions on the request, but said that the supervisors had reached a consensus on them.

    In other business, the supervisors elected John Sharp as chairman and Roger Cheek as vice chairman. They also adopted a meeting schedule under which budget work sessions don’t start until February. County Administrator Kathleen Guzi said that she proposed this because she expects substantial cuts in state funding to localities. The later starting point will allow the supervisors and county staff to have a better handle on what to expect from the General Assembly.