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Supervisors divided over James River campground
Roger Nelson presents the Howardsville Campground and Canoe Livery - January 16, 2013
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Roger Nelson presents the Howardsville Campground and Canoe Livery
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by Sean Tubbs | Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 5:49 p.m.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors denied an application for a 48-space camping facility on the banks of the James and Rockfish rivers in Howardsville.

The denial came in the form of a 3-3 vote Wednesday evening.

“The Howardsville community is in complete unity in their opposition to this proposal,” said attorney Steve Blaine, who represented an adjacent landowner.

However, the applicant said the opposition was unwarranted and would prevent a recreational amenity for the county.

“I’m up against people who don’t want to hear children laughing and playing,” said Roger Nelson, the man who would be general manager of the site.

The board’s denial of the campsite came despite the Planning Commission’s unanimous recommendation for approval after a public hearing in November.

The commission did so based on several recommended conditions. Conditions had included a ban on amplified sound; prohibition of alcohol consumption; mandatory quiet hours from 9 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.; and the removal of portable toilets when flood warnings are announced by the National Weather Service.

The permit would have expired at the end of 2014, allowing officials a chance to gauge whether the campsite has lived up to the county’s expectations.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek was concerned that the site was located entirely in the flood plain.

“That seems to be way outside of the bounds to me for what we have used in the buffer,” Mallek said.

Wayne Cilimberg, the county’s director of planning, said the application would have been consistent with the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

“There is the possibility for alternative commercial recreational uses in the rural area,” Cilimberg said.

The Albemarle Police Department had said the camp’s customers should be notified of long response times, but did not oppose the plan.

During the public hearing, Howardsville resident Victor Wooley said there have been 39 major floods of the site over the past 30 years, including two this year. Mallek said she was concerned that the Rockfish can flood without warning despite Nelson’s insistence that camp residents would have plenty of notice.

“I don’t think we should be too quick to dismiss that as a no-risk element, especially when people are sleeping and they have no notice that something is coming,” Mallek said.

Nelson said he would suspend operations if heavy rainfall is in the forecast. Another concern was the isolation from telecommunications facilities.

“This is a remote location, so wireless service is limited,” Cilimberg said. “There are no land lines nearby.”

Nelson said he was in communication with CenturyLink to install a payphone at the Howardsville General Store, which is right across the street from the proposed campsite.

However, he said he himself has had no problem with getting cell service at the site, but that it should not be an issue that prevents the special-use permit from being approved.

“People do all kinds of backwoods things a long way from a telephone,” Nelson said.

Supervisor Duane Snow said he supported the proposal because the police department and health department had not objected. He also pointed out that permits would have expired at the end of 2014.

“If there are complaints, we can stop it after that,” Snow said.

Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said his interpretation of county code was that there should be no uses allowed in the flood zone. He also said that he could not grant the permits because of the opposition from Howardsville residents.

“This is a unique historic site,” Rooker said. “Special-use permits are discretionary. There’s no right to have this here.”

Rooker also said he did not see how the county was going to be able to enforce the conditions, and that the risks outweighed the benefits.

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said he would support the application.

“The community has already said they will police it for us and they will be watching,” Boyd said, prompting boos from the audience.

“The problem with that is, as we’ve seen with wineries, no one can be cited for a zoning violation until a zoning official actually sees it,” Rooker said.

Despite the split vote that sank the campground application, an associated canoe livery was approved at the same location. 

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