OSFR President Mike Roth reports on the Pine Ridge RV Park meeting in Trenton.
Gilchrist deadlocks; proposed RV park lives to see another day
By Michael Roth
It was a long night at the Gilchrist County Board of County Commissioners meeting on September 21, and all it led to was the promise of another long night on October 5. Mostly maskless and shoulder to shoulder, over 100 residents turned out for the hearing on a proposed RV park in northern Gilchrist. After about twenty-five residents spoke, some representing several others and thus speaking for longer than the three-minute allowance (including only two supporters of the RV park), the Commission ended up deadlocked two votes to two on a motion by Kenrick Thomas to deny the permit. Commissioner Sharon Langford recused herself due to family connections. Kristin Rubin, Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and I spoke for OSFR.
When the deadlock occurred, county attorney David Lang, who in this writer’s opinion showed clear bias for the developer, asked what was the pleasure of the commissioners, and Commissioner Thomas changed his motion to table the issue in line with Commissioners Gray and Martin saying they needed “additional information”. Specifically, they both cited the absence of a DOT study on the effects of the park on County Road 340, which had been brought up by several speakers. The new motion passed 4-0.
I spoke with Martin and Gray after the meeting and they defended their votes, both saying that a plan with less density and larger buffers might be acceptable. To me, this brought back memories of the HPSII mining application in Bradford County where, rather than deny an incomplete and unsupported application, the commissioners tabled it advising the mining company how to “cure” their submission. It would seem that any incomplete or unsupported application should be denied – the hearing should not be the time to collaborate with the developer. It is a distinct indication of commissioners simply not wanting to deny.
The meeting started with the applicant’s presentation of their proposed project, a 374-unit RV park with a theater, farmer’s market, swimming pool and a dozen bath houses on the 120-acre property zoned Agriculture A-2 and A-5. That zoning required a special use permit from the commission, which was to consider “compatibility and harmony” with the surrounding area and the adequacy of infrastructure and concurrency. Many of the residents spoke of their love for the rural nature of their properties and of their concern for the sound and light pollution and excessive traffic that would create a nuisance to their standard of living. Attorney Ralf Brooks spoke on behalf of several of the residents and even provided the commissioners with a motion to use to deny the permit. He introduced two experts – a professional land use planner, Jim Sturdiale, who did an excellent job of illustrating how the applicant failed to meet the standards of the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code, and hydrogeologist Dennis Price, who explained the potential hazards to the karstic lands under the development and the water table below that. Lengthy public comment followed.
When Commissioner Thomas made his first motion, David Lang was “doing my job as your attorney” in not only requiring Thomas to cite specifics, which was understandable, but also to warn him of all the possible negative consequences of such a motion in a threatening manner which appeared to be an effort to move him off his motion. Also, attorney Brooks said privately before he left the meeting early that with the recusal, a deadlock would represent failure to obtain the three necessary votes and thus represent a denial. Apparently Lang did not share that interpretation.
Presumably the developer will come back with an amended plan and better supported road studies, and the episode will continue on October 5.
Kristin Rubin Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson Mike Roth