Special needs camp on Fayette Commission’s agenda Thursday

Critics of rezoning decry traffic, noise impact on rural area

There is expected to be some contention Thursday night when the Fayette County Commission considers a rezoning to allow a camp for special needs youth on a 494-acre tract in unincorporated Fayette County off Ebenezer Church Road.

Some neighbors have opposed Camp Southern Ground based on concerns about traffic the camp will generate and other potential “off-season” uses for the site.

According to county planning staff, the site plan includes a 75-foot buffer around its perimeter, though the commission can increase that size as a part of the rezoning if it chooses to do so.

The camp is being spearheaded by Fayette County resident Zac Brown of the award-winning Zac Brown Band, who has said he had a life-changing summer camp experience when he was a kid years ago, and he hopes to create such an environment here. Brown and his wife Shelly, who is a Fayette County native, have four girls whom they hope will benefit from having the camp here as well.

The tract in question is located at the end of Arnold Road, a short distance off Ebenezer Church Road in the center of unincorporated Fayette County. The main access road, however, would be off Ebenezer Church Road, and a deceleration-acceleration lane may be required on Ebenezer Church, according to county staff.

The land is currently zoned for agriculture-residential use, which requires a minimum lot size of five acres. The new zoning would be for a “planned retreat or lodge.”

The retreat/lodge zoning allows for uses including assembly/meeting facilities, both indoor and outdoor; dining facilities; lodges, dormitories, cabins and/or tent campsites for temporary occupancy and recreational facilities. The zoning also allows for housing to be constructed for caretakers and/or staff of the camp.

No building will be allowed to be taller than 35 feet under the zoning requested by the camp.

The camp expects to serve about 250 children, who would be dropped off Sunday afternoons and picked up Friday afternoons staggered over a three-hour period both days.

The camp’s website notes that it will serve children with neurobehavioral and learning difficulties and also those with “diverse backgrounds and socio-economic levels.”

The camp is anticipated to be in full operation four months out of the year leaving “minimal traffic activity” the other eight months, according to a traffic study conducted for Camp Southern Ground.

The camp will have 98 parking spaces and temporary parking for an additional 100 vehicles.

Despite the camp’s lofty goals, some nearby residents have voiced opposition, claiming that traffic from the camp will become a nuisance, detracting from the rural lifestyle residents have come to enjoy.

But a camp representative noted that if the land were developed as planned for residential lots of five acres each, the traffic would be double what is expected for the camp. Moreover, the homes would have an impact on the school system, whereas the camp would not, it was noted.

In addition to the increased traffic the camp would bring, residents are also concerned about the rezoning being contrary to the land use plan, which calls for the land to remain zoned agriculture-residential.

One neighbor told the planning commission that noise was a primary concern for his family. There are also some questions about the viability of a community septic system large enough to serve the campers and staffers on-site.

Organizers hope the camp will be open by summer 2014, as the planning phase is underway as part of the zoning process. If the rezoning is approved, a fund-raising campaign will be undertaken.

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