Big month for Zac Brown: County OKs summer camp

Former summer camp counselor Zac Brown, who grew up to be a Grammy-award-winning musician, was all smiles after his Camp Southern Ground won a unanimous rezoning approval from the Fayette County Commission Thursday night. In addition, the Zac Brown Band’s single, “Keep Me in Mind,” is number one on the Billboard Country Songs chart this week. Photo/John Munford.

Fayette County is on its way to getting a bona-fide small scale “tourist” attraction: a summer camp nestled on a 494-acre tract off Ebenezer Church Road.

Instead of roller coasters and kiddie rides, there will be horse-riding, swimming, hiking and a ropes course.

What will make Camp Southern Ground unique is its target audience: a diverse group of campers, particularly those with a variety of special needs such as academic, social and emotional difficulties.

According to the camp website, a central focus will be on “superior nutrition, physical exercise and the latest practices in therapy.”

At the same time, the camp will expose many Georgia residents to Fayette County as they travel to and from here to drop off and pick up their children.

Country singer Zac Brown and his wife Shelly, a Fayetteville native, are spearheading the effort. The camp has been lauded for working with the concerns of immediate neighbors in developing the camp plans to this point. Now the Browns will get to kick their dreams into overdrive, as a fund-raising campaign will begin shortly with a goal of opening the camp in the summer of 2014.

The unanimous rezoning approval from the Fayette County Commission Thursday night was a significant hurdle for the camp to clear.

Getting that approval was not a slam dunk, however: a handful of neighbors spoke out against the camp, worried that increased traffic from camp activity will endanger the rural lifestyle they have come to enjoy.

As one camp proponent noted, the area has seen a significant rise in cut-through traffic in recent years as Ebenezer Church Road has become a more prominent shortcut between Peachtree City and Fayetteville.

In its summary of intent, camp officials pledged to operate the summer camp from May through September while keeping unnecessary traffic congestion away from Ebenezer Church Road. The camp will stagger its drop-off and pick-up times so there will not be a crush of vehicles coming to and leaving the camp twice a week.

Camp officials have also pledged to follow noise ordinances and all other applicable local, state and federal regulations.

Some neighbors have expressed concern about the community septic system that will serve the site, but it was noted that both the county health department and the state will inspect the system to make sure it runs correctly.

Camp officials were praised for working with neighbors to address certain design issues, including the relocation of a parking lot area away from a nearby residence.

Though the majority left happy with the rezoning being granted, there were a handful of citizens who left displeased.

One opponent noted that she was upset with the lingering unanswered questions about what will happen at the camp the seven months of the year when it is not operating.

According to camp officials, offseason events will include day visitors from area schools, religious and civic groups along with camp-specific fund-raising activities.

The tract will leave 400 acres of land undisturbed, and the open space will be managed by Southern Conservation Trust.

Brown briefly addressed the commission to insure them the goal is to “exceed all expectations in all areas.”

Of the 106 acres that is to be developed for the camp, 37 will be designated for an equestrian facility for the camp.

Brown told the commission that as a youth camper and later youth camp counselor, he realized the impact that summer camp can play in a child’s development.

“You can really change the trajectory of their lives,” Brown said, noting that the camp is his dream. “... There is no ulterior motive here other than to help children in a bigger role and build it where it will perpetuate. It’s not about me.”

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