|By Ruth L. Tisdale, The Roanoke Times,
Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 11, 2007 - In a narrow 4-3 vote, the Franklin County Planning Commission voted Tuesday night to recommend denying the 605-acre LakeWatch Spa and Resort development.
"I am surprised," said Trey Park, the developer who brought the project before the commission. "I didn't think it would turn out this way."
The recommendation will be given to the county supervisors, who will make a final decision on the project Aug. 28.
Park proposed changing the 605 acres from A-1 agricultural zoning to a planned commercial development. He also had eight special-use permits for boat storage, residential housing units and a shopping center.
But those permits were never voted on because the commission voted to deny the development.
The Spa and Resort development was proposed to accompany the already approved LakeWatch Plantation.
Both developments would have been more than 1,000 acres and cost more than $1.2 billion to build.
The proposed Spa and Resort development featured a condominium hotel, a conference center, a golf course and a wakeboard cable park as well as single- and multi-family residential units.
During his presentation, Clyde Perdue, Park's attorney, said the Spa and Resort development was in line with the county's comprehensive plan.
Perdue said the proposal was the best for the county because it would have its own private sewer system and all of the revenue a conference center would bring.
"We believe this will add to the tourism industry of Franklin County," Perdue said. "Where are you going to have a conference center in Franklin County when you don't have the infrastructure in place?"
But changing the area to a planned commercial development distinction did not coincide with the comprehensive plan, planning commission member Bob Camicia said.
Camicia said the site of the development was discussed extensively during the creation of the comprehensive plan, which was finalized in April.
"This was expected to be residential, not commercial," he said. "This goes against the character of the land."
Camicia was not alone in his disapproval of the development.
Many members of the Betty Creek area, where the hotel would be built, voiced their displeasure.
Laurie Redding, who lives in the area, said no one had done a feasibility study to see if a conference center or hotel was warranted there.
Bud Stockton, who has owned property at the creek since 1960, said adding the hotel would only increase traffic on the creek and make it unsafe.
"The creek is already incredibly busy," Stockton said.
"There have already been deaths at the creek. If you add a 150-unit hotel, it would only make it more dangerous. It's a great plan, just in the wrong place," he added.
But there were others who agreed with the project.
Russell Seneff, who lives in Union Hall, said development would eventually come to the county.
"Growth is still coming to the lake," he said. "The 122 corridor is the best place to put it. When you have a good developer, it's good for the county."
Commission members also disagreed on whether to deny the proposal, but after 212 hours of discussion, their decision to deny the proposal was met with applause from residents.
Gills Creek Supervisor Russell Johnson said he was happy that citizens were able to voice their concerns and that he would take those concerns to the supervisors' meeting.
Camicia said that although he wished the decision were unanimous, he was happy with the outcome.
"It was a good project," he said. "They just need more market studies to make this make sense."
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Copyright (c) 2007, The Roanoke Times, Va.
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