Citizens appeal county's Spirit Harbor decision

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — The decision whether to allow a proposed 150-site recreational park known as Spirit Harbor is now in the hands of Grayson County Circuit Court.

According to documents filed April 10, community members — 15 in total, many of whom had spoken in opposition of the plan — petitioned the court to review the decision of the Grayson Board of Supervisors.

The supervisors approved the developers' request for a special use permit for the recreational park in Mouth of Wilson on March 12. The developers agreed to cut down the original plan for 252 sites to 150.

Those in opposition cited various reasons in support of their petition, including:

• the first preliminary site plan submitted to the county's planning commission was not for any allowed special use under the Grayson County zoning ordinance.

• the amended preliminary site plan submitted to the planning commission was not advertised for public comment, as required by the Code of Virginia.

The appeal stated that the amended plan differed substantially from the original plan, and should have been available for inspection and public comment prior to submission to the planning commission.

• the supervisors approved the amended plan in the “absence of specific findings of compliance” by the planning commission.

• the amended plan does not conform to the Grayson County Comprehensive Zoning Plan, and the special use granted for the amended preliminary plan of Spirit Harbor “adversely impacts neighboring landowners and is not compatible with their use of surrounding properties.”

The petitioners ask that the circuit court “issue an order reversing the Board of Supervisors' approval of the amended preliminary plan and requiring the Planning Commission to advertise the actual amended preliminary plan for public comment” as required by the Code of Virginia.

In the appeal, petitioners said they wanted the matter to be returned to the supervisors and planning commission for “further proceedings consistent with the laws and zoning ordinances of Grayson County and the Commonwealth of Virginia; and for such other relief as the court or the nature of this case may require.”

Five months of pleas and promises came down to a three-hour public hearing in March. The supervisors unanimously approved the permit, after noting that — if some development projects like Spirit Harbor were not approved — Grayson would become known as “developer unfriendly.”

In total, 17 people spoke during the public comment period in March. Of those, 12 were against the project, four spoke in favor and one said he was neither for nor against — he just wanted the board to look at both sides equally.

Those listed on the petition include: Patricia Divine, Morrison Divine, John A. Duvall, Michael Griffin, Charlotte Hanes, Michael Horn, Dennis A. Lennert, Fayma J. Nye, Lamont Powell, Lenora Rose, Mark Rose, Ruth Ross, Thomas J. Smith, Kim Baughman and Sidney R. Fant — many of whom spoke in opposition at the March 12 meeting.

Neighbors worried about the increased traffic in their quiet community, as well as negative effects on the scenic view and the New River.

Many questioned if the roads in Spirit Harbor would be adequate for fire and rescue vehicles, and whether the county wanted to place the extra burden of covering a “small-city” on the all-volunteer emergency services.

Developers urged the board to grant the permit based on the amount of tax money and tourism dollars Spirit Harbor would bring — and supervisors listened.

Detractors said it would be closer and more convenient for those in the park to go to North Carolina, where there were more options for grocery stores and restaurants.

After hours of discussion, Supervisor Doug Carrico motioned to approve the permit, and the motion was seconded by Vice Chairman Larry Bartlett.

“It's been mentioned before that Grayson County is 80 percent rural farm,” Carrico said at the March 12 meeting. “Unless we take action on some of these projects, it'll always be rural farm.”

The decision will now go before Circuit Judge Brett Geisler. No hearing date has been set.