After a lengthy discussion last week, Devils Backbone Brewing Company will be able to convert dry campsites for recreational vehicles to wet campsites in hopes of attracting more tourists to Nelson County.
On Sept. 10, the Nelson County Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 1 to amend a special use permit to allow 22 of the 25 dry campsites at 30 Three Ridges Lane to be converted to wet campsites. This allows for people traveling to Devils Backbone’s campsites with RVs to hook up their water and septic systems onsite, rather than having to drive elsewhere to properly take care of water and septic systems before returning to the campsite. Central District Supervisor Ernie Reed voted against the motion to allow the amendment.
“This is just a request to amend an existing SUP,” Antonio Jorge, director of hospitality at Devils Backbone, told the board.
The biggest concern from board members was whether or not the area could accommodate the increased septic load. Jorge told the board it wouldn’t be a problem because the original SUP already included the possibility of more septic, and although the application asks for 25 to be converted, they will only be converting 22 and getting rid of the other three to accommodate for spacing issues.
“We want to improve existing conditions,” Justin Crandall, vice president of Tectonics II, the general contractor for all structures on Devils Backbone property, told the board.
Five individuals spoke during the public comments portion of the public hearing: Afton resident Eleanor Amidon; Schuyler resident Deborah Kushner; Roseland resident Andrew Hickman; Heidi Crandall, co-founder of Devils Backbone; and Jorge again.
Jorge, Heidi Crandall, and Hickman were all in support of allowing the amendment, despite the concerns of rising water levels in the area brought up by Vice Chair and North District Representative Tommy Harvey. A letter from Aqua Nova Engineering addressed the concern, it was stated the change would be possible.
“With the modifications proposed, the existing water supply and on-site sewage system have capacity to handle these connections,” the letter read.
Kushner and Amidon were against the amendment. Amidon didn’t want what she referred to as “man-camps” in the area and stated she was concerned if the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC were to be built, then pipeline workers would stay at the RV campsites and create all sorts of problems.
“What’s wrong with a man-camp, you ask? In any small or rural community, a massive influx of transient men is a recipe for disaster,” Amidon told the board.
Thomas Bruguiere, Jr., West District supervisor, denied any problems with “man-camps” from his experience in the county.
“We have 200 workers in the county right now harvesting fruits and vegetables. They are all-manned camps and we don’t have any problems. I don’t know where in the world that’s coming from,” Bruguiere said.
Kushner said the amendment would contribute to an increase in people coming to the area, which would increase the already congested traffic along Virginia 151.
“It’s a drastic change to convert dry sites to wet not two years after the initial permit and that’s troubling. Would this model have passed two years ago with all wet sites?” Kushner asked. “Small, but steady steps toward more and more development puts more stresses on an increasingly stressed area.”
Other concerns regarding a bath house on the property and the need for a permit from the health department arose during the hour-long discussion. In a letter in the board’s packet from Aqua Nova Engineering, Harvey said it appeared they agreed not to construct the bath house included in the SUP if the campsites were converted. Justin Crandall disagreed, saying that wasn’t the intention of the letter. Another concern of whether or not the planning commission had access to the engineer’s letter prior to its decision to recommend approval was also brought up.
“Regardless of the expertise, the basic inconsistencies between the Aqua Nova letter and what’s included is troubling to me,” Reed said before the board voted.
In a separate interview on Sept. 11, Dylan Bishop, planning and zoning director, said she received the engineer’s letter on Aug. 27, one day before the planning commission meeting. Bishop said she gave the planning commission members a hard copy of the letter at the meeting on Aug. 28.
“Lodging is at a deficit. Tourism is vital to the survival of this county along with agro-tourism, which is pretty much a lot of the businesses along the corridor of 151,” Heidi Crandall said.