Two of the most fundamental objectives of the County’s “Comprehensive Plan” are to maintain the County’s “rural quality of life” and to “protect [our] natural and cultural assets.” But does our Economic Development Authority actually consider these when exploring potential business development here? The County’s response to a recent request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) reveals that the answer is clearly “no.”
This letter highlights two examples — one already approved, the other under study — that undermine those fundamental objectives. The bottom line here is to urge the EDA and Board of Supervisors to honor those objectives before pursuing or authorizing future development.
Here’s the context:
The FOIA Request
The FOIA request asked the County Government, “Whether and how EDA considers the environmental impact of projects of development that it considers or promotes.” The request explained that “environmental impact” includes the County’s central “vision for the future,” set forth in the Comprehensive Plan (which the Board of Supervisors adopted in April 2020):
“Page County’s vision for the future is to promote an environment conducive to maintaining a rural quality of life, which enhances tourism and agriculture and protects natural and cultural assets while encouraging compatible business and residential growth to provide a higher standard of living for its citizens…Recent growth trends have become cause for concern in Page County.”
The FOIA request also cited Section 1.9 of the Comprehensive Plan, which lists several criteria included in “what we value.” These include:
“…A pristine environment; Livable, attractive communities; The preservation of open space; …and an enduring inviting, rural character”
Two Recent Developments
Two recent developments — one actual, another potential — triggered this FOIA request. The first is the massive Luray RV Resort and Campground along Route 211 West. This $30 million project includes over 180 RV sites, plus scores more for glamping, tents, and cabins, plus tall garish water slides, and very controversial discharge of wastewater into the Shenandoah River. Our Board of Supervisors granted a special use permit for the project, with surprisingly few conditions and the state Department of Environmental Quality appears on the verge of granting a permit to allow the developer to discharge 50,000 gallons per day of treated effluent into the River.
The second potential development is a massive indoor/outdoor waterpark likely to inflict even more damage on the County, if it ever materializes. With approval from the Board of Supervisors, the EDA commissioned and received (May 2022) a feasibility study to evaluate the project and has since made it available to potential investors interested in hotel and resort developments in Page County. The primary site considered for that development is the Caverns County Club (golf course) just outside Luray town limits.
The EDA’s Feasibility Study
The scale and features of the potential waterpark are completely incompatible with a “rural quality of life” and “pristine environment.” The feasibility study says it is intended primarily for wealthier, out of town tourists, because few local residents can afford it. Yet the primary purpose of the EDA (according to its by-laws) is to “better the welfare of community citizens.” It is hard to see how this “destination resort” would achieve that purpose, given its proposed features:
- Investment of up to $180 million, beginning in January 2025 (some six times more than the Luray RV Resort).
- A 60,000 square foot indoor waterpark (with capacity for 1,700 people all at once) plus an outdoor play area.
- An “upscale” 300-room hotel (capacity of 1,200 people), and “upscale” restaurant and wine bar.
- Annual attendance of 275,000 to 320,000 people (that’s 11 to 13 times the County’s total population; on a daily basis, up to nearly 1,000 tourists).
- An arcade, spa (facials, pedicures, massage), retail stores (selling T-shirts, swimsuits, souvenirs, and snacks), bowling, laser tag, virtual reality center, snowmobiling, and kiosks for face-painting and temporary tattoos.
- 1.25 miles of riverfront, with kayaking, canoeing, zip lines, and ropes.
- Cabins for bridal parties, ballroom, plus cabanas, conference center, and business center.
- Prominent theme and branding, like a “children’s kingdom,” Caribbean or African theme, or “well known cartoon characters” (think Disney).
- 400 to 600 parking spaces.
- “Flagging” the resort with the likes of Waldorf Astoria, Ritz Carlton, Hilton, or Trump International.
And that is not all. The feasibility study expressly failed to consider the impact on the river, land, or people of hazardous materials or contaminants, such as asbestos, toxic waste, PCBs, and pesticides. It states that to encourage a developer to proceed, the project may need the County to grant tax abatements or funding (i.e., taxpayers should help pay for this). The property’s current zoning as “Woodland-Conservation”— designed to “perpetuate rural atmosphere, open space and scenic landscape” — would be eliminated. The project’s wide range of commercial features — restaurants, hotels, arcade, gift shops, salons, outdoor activities — is designed to capture tourist dollars all within its own confines, rather than among other local businesses.
A full copy of the feasibility study is available through this link:
Will the Board of Supervisors Honor its Own Comprehensive Plan?
Responding to the FOIA request, EDA acknowledged that it did not undertake any environmental study of the waterpark and has no documents showing that it even considered the project’s environmental impact.
The Board of Supervisors has ultimate authority over the EDA and ultimate authority to approve, deny, or impose conditions on future development in this County. A petition protesting the Luray RV Resort’s plan to discharge treated wastewater into the South Fork collected nearly 500 signatures; and given the nature and enormous scale of the proposed waterpark (with 1.25 miles of riverfront), even greater opposition is virtually inevitable.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line here is clear: Consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, local citizens want the Board of Supervisors to very carefully consider and control the nature, scale and impact of future development in this County, before its rural character, natural and cultural assets, and pristine environment are destroyed.
Skip Halpern ~ Luray, Va.
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