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Independence backs Spirit Harbor plan

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INDEPENDENCE — Town council members on Tuesday said a proposed Christian recreational park for seniors that could be constructed seven miles from the town limits would boost Independence's economy.

"Spirit Harbor" managing member Joe Weddington described the controversial project during a town council meeting Tuesday.

Several Grayson residents and neighbors to the proposed 148-acre park site have voiced opposition to the developers' plans.

While the town has no real authority over the project, Weddington explained that, as the town nearest to the proposed 250-site park in the Mouth of Wilson community, Independence would likely see the park's residents and visitors patronize town businesses and restaurants.

Mayor Butch Reeves is one of the project's developers. He recused himself from council proceedings during Spirit Harbor-related business.

He requested a resolution of support, which council approved.

Weddington also presented town council with an “open letter” to county officials and business leaders, addressing some of the issues that have led to opposition.

“We have tried to do everything 'by the book,'” Weddington's letter said. Developers were told they needed to apply for a special use permit and list the intended use as a mobile home park, even though the site was being developed as a seasonal recreational park with cabins.

Spirit Harbor “is a membership and annual lease campground. No one will live there permanently. We are not selling the land. The park will be closed for two months during the winter and will only be open on weekends in December and March,” the letters said.

There will be restrictive covenants on this land, and the average member will have around $80ee' $100,000 invested in their cabin and membership.

“The camping cabins that will be located at Spirit Harbor are recreational park model trailers, which are similar to white pine log cabins on wheels,” the letter said. “Once set on a foundation, they look like small log cabins.

These types of cabins are being used all over the country and are replacing bus-sized RVs as the camping home of choice by seniors, Weddington said.

“The units we have are being built in Virginia,” the letter said. “Our recreational park will be one of the few that is completely accessible by the handicapped.”

Weddington addressed the environmental concerns some neighbors have expressed.

“We will landscape the entire park with pines, rhododendron, laurel, flame azalea, Fraser fir and sycamore. All roads, utilities and infrastructure will be installed with minimal impact on the land,” the letter said.

“Our frontage on the New River will not be developed. It will be used as green space and access for canoeing and fishing. All view sheds will be left as natural as possible. The completed park will be a place Grayson County will be proud of.”

Weddington said the economic impact of the park will be significant — with land taxes, permits, fees and personal property taxes contributing directly to operation of county government.

“The local business community will benefit from the tourism this park will bring. We estimate the increased business impact will be $2-3 million per year,” the letter said. “There will be many jobs created by this project. We will improve the county roads leading to our park. This park will be a winee'win for Grayson County.”

A majority of the Grayson County Planning Commission members on Feb. 17 recommended against issuing a special use permit for Spirit Harbor, saying the project is too dense for its rural location — with 250 units on less than 150 acres.

The site off Fox Wood Lane (Tax Map No. 69-A-60) is zoned rural farm. Under the county’s zoning ordinance, a mobile home park is permitted with a special use permit.