By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Nov. 23 — After nearly three hours of discussion last Wednesday during a joint meeting with the planning commission, the Page County Board of Supervisors passed two motions paving the way for the sale and $30 million expansion of Outlanders River Camp along Route 211 just west of Luray.
Blue Water Development Corporation, based in Ocean City, Md., stated in an Oct. 5 letter to the county, that they enter this potential acquisition with owner Yvonne Berezoski with every intention of being a good corporate neighbor.
“With an investment expected to be more than $30 million, we aim to build upon Page County’s beauty and excitement with our development plans at the Outlanders River Camp. Ms. Berezoski provides a venue sought after by many and we are committed to continuing her years of guest enjoyment and community support…the Outlanders property is one our team is committed to add…,” the letter reads.
However, some surrounding landowners are not pleased with the idea of thousands of transient visitors surrounding them over the next half century under the 50-year special use permit issued last week by the county. Two key issues were voiced by opponents during Wednesday’s public hearings:
• A 50-foot buffer from adjoining landowners, which meets minimum requirements under county code; versus a requested 100-foot buffer to help mitigate impacts on neighbors.
• The speed of the approval process, in which a joint meeting between the planning commission and the board of supervisors was held to fast-track the permit and avoid two separate public hearings. Then, following the two hearings, 12 guidelines in the special use permit were ironed out over a couple of hours rather than taking additional time to review conditions that govern the property for five decades.
“I’m going to be a neighbor to this development for the rest of my life,” Page County resident Brad Holsinger told members of the two boards. “The property tax revenue from this $30 million expansion may never come. Don’t be compelled by the dangling carrot of [Transient Occupancy Tax] and property tax dollars to approve this tonight if you feel you have not had time to do your due diligence and figure out the correct sizing for this project…property tax [revenue] increases are no more guaranteed for this than they were for Dave Tong’s data center…”
The county’s economic development office projects that the project will bring in more than $520,000 in Transiency Occupancy Tax (TOT) funds annually, along with more than $180,000 in real estate taxes. It’s also projected to create between 40-45 full-time jobs. Nina Fox, the county’s director of Economic Development and Tourism, spoke in favor of the planned campground expansion. Citing a year-round average occupancy rate of 80 percent among Page County’s short-term rentals, Fox pointed to a need for additional lodging options for visitors or the county would be “leaving money on the table and giving it to neighboring communities”, especially in months like July when 96 percent of available lodging in the county is booked.
The planned campground expansion would add a total of 81 acres to the current 100-acre retreat featuring nearly a mile of frontage along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. Some of the proposed expansion property was already zoned agricultural, while 9.9 acres remains zoned for commercial use. The supervisors’ first motion last Wednesday rezoned a 43-acre parcel and a 3-acre parcel from residential to agricultural use to bring both the current project and the planned expansion in alignment with county code. Campgrounds are only allowed under a special use permit in an agricultural zone.
“While we have no quarrel with the application’s rezoning from residential to agricultural, we do object to the speed and manner in which the board of supervisors is undertaking this vote and urge you to delay the special use permit until you have sufficient information to make a proper decision,” Rileyville resident and Shenandoah Riverkeeper Mark Founder told the two boards.
District 5 supervisor Jeff Vaughan agreed.
“I think it’s time we do our homework before moving a project like this aggressively forward,” Vaughan said. “This is a huge project…I think we need to do our due diligence…I am not in favor of voting on it tonight.”
Vaughan was the lone dissenting vote against approval of the rezoning, which most supervisors felt was needed to bring the current “grandfathered” project more in compliance, regardless of the planned expansion.
The existing campground offers 40 RV sites, three cabins, 28 campsites and 18 primitive campsites approved under a special use permit issued in 2008. While the county’s campground ordinance was rewritten in 2013, the Outlanders site was still governed under the original ordinance and permit until the new permit was approved last Wednesday.
The planned expansion will offer an additional 59 “safari/glamping” sites, 80 cabins and 153 RV sites, according to a report by Page County Zoning Administrator Tracy Clatterbuck. However, an additional presentation by Tyler Austin of Racey Engineering stated that the applicant was now requesting 370 total sites under a revised concept plan, rather than the original figure of about 350. The move would allow for adjustments, according to Austin, as permits are approved from outside agencies like Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, which will manage stormwater runoff and any wastewater treatment plant that might be built on the site.
“Anything that releases off this site in terms of stormwater runoff, I have to control, as required by the state,” Austin said.
While some speakers last Wednesday voiced environmental concerns related to impacts on the Shenandoah River and neighboring landowners seemed most bothered by the scope of the project, several who addressed the two boards spoke in favor of the campground expansion.
Jim Simms, managing partner of the Mimslyn Inn, spoke highly of Bluewater properties he had stayed at during his travels. He noted that the Mimslyn’s progress over the past 14 years was made possible by the support of local leadership, adding “I hope you do the same for Bluewater.”
Randy Howan, a member of the county’s new committee that divvies up TOT funds, saw the the campground expansion as a “perfect opportunity for growth in our county.”
“I whole-heartedly support the decision to rezone and encourage [this project],” Howan told board members prior to Wednesday’s vote. “If not there, then where? No matter where you do any growth in any county, you’re going to have objections.”
Last Wednesday, supervisors and members of the planning commission spent about two hours going through each of 12 requirements outlined in the special use permit. The biggest issue — the buffer — remained at the minimum requirement of 50 feet, rather than the requested 100 feet. A key element of that buffer will be two layers of fencing with an eight-foot berm covered in trees and vegetation in the middle.
While a draft concept plan has received initial approval from some state agencies, Clatterbuck “strongly encouraged” planners and supervisors to “carefully consider any conditions of the special use permit” as “most of the enforcement will come through the SUP conditions.” She also noted that specifics were needed in the SUP because the county’s campground ordinance was “very basic.”
After ironing out each item during the two-hour back-and-forth, both the planning commission and the board of supervisors unanimously approved the special use permit for the campground’s planned expansion.
With regard to a circa 1743 home on the property, Bluewater’s CEO, who was in attendance at last Wednesday’s meeting, assured local leaders that the structure was “never going to be demo’d”, adding that it may become a museum.
To date, Blue Water owns six campgrounds, 12 hotels and three attractions, with properties in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Maine and New Hampshire. According to its website, Blue Water has been “creating elite assets and exceeding guest expectations” since 2007.