Park rezoning wins approval

by Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Aug 08, 2018 - 01:18 PM

The Gloucester County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of a rezoning Tuesday night that will pave the way for a state park to be built on more than 640 acres of land known as Timberneck Farm. The board voted 5-2 on the matter following a public hearing, which brought a wide range of comments from residents and nearby property owners.

The property was originally zoned for a 49-lot residential subdivision. However, the developer for the project was unable to develop the land and placed it for sale, allowing a private entity called The Conservation Fund to purchase the land. Now that the rezoning has been approved, The Conservation Fund is expected to turn the property over to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation in 2019.

Phase-one construction on the site, which will be completed while the property is still owned by The Conservation Fund, will include a 30-site campground with a bathhouse, 16 primitive walk-in tent sites, 14 RV sites and a kayak/canoe launch. Subsequent phases will include cabins, a visitor center, hiking trails, staff housing and more.

Joel Badanes, who resides in the Abingdon district, said he was concerned because too many questions go unanswered. “I still can’t follow the money and don’t know how the deal was done,” Badanes said. “What happens when the state takes it? I don’t know.”

Warren Deal, who spoke on behalf of a group of citizens in favor of the park said, “The Timberneck tract is a valuable resource in the county best suited for a state park under the watchful eye of the DCR.” 

Retired Del. Harvey Morgan, who serves as a board member of the DCR, said the park would be a “huge attraction” to Gloucester. “Tourism is the most desirable form of industry,” Morgan said. “This is like manna from heaven having The Conservation Fund buy the property.”

Shelly Haywood, who lives adjacent to the Timberneck property, said she was concerned about kayakers being turned loose into the strong currents that run through Timberneck Creek near the mouth of the York River. She said she recently pulled in a kayaker who got caught in the currents.

Haywood also questioned why no master plan for the property has been provided to adjacent property owners and posed the question, “Would you, as a waterfront property owner, like to wake up every morning to RVs and camp sites? Because they will be within 400 feet of my dock.”

However, William Andersen, who lives directly across Cedar Bush Creek from the property, said he is “overjoyed about having the opportunity to preserve this site.”

The park came to fruition as part of mitigation stipulations in a memorandum of agreement for the proposed Dominion Energy Surry-Skiffes Creek Transmission Line Project that will run over the James River.

York district supervisor Phillip Bazzani, who voted against the rezoning along with Petsworth district supervisor Michael Winebarger, said he was concerned about whether there were any financial ties between Dominion and the DCR and also whether Dominion would hold any interest in the property later down the road.

Bazzani said he had hoped to see the memorandum of agreement and other bidding documents related to the property before voting.

Heather Richards with The Conservation Fund said, “Dominion retains absolutely no rights to this property,” and added that her organization basically acts as “middle man” in purchasing properties such as Timberneck to be used for conservation purposes.

Ware district supervisor Andy James was concerned about the economic impact, or lack thereof, the park would have on the county. “I camped in state parks over the years … and I don’t remember spending much money at all in either of them,” he said. “Where is the balloon for the county coming from?”

Other matters

In other news, the board voted 7-0 on a zoning ordinance amendment in the Residential Mixed Use District to allow front-loaded garages and other minor changes.

It also voted 7-0 on an additional appropriation of $139,000 to fund Motorola Bi-Directional Amplifiers to improve current inadequate emergency communications systems at Achilles and Bethel elementary and Peasley middle schools.