Happy campers: Commission smiles on pool-to-camp plan
Field Camp founder Todd Barnett is one step closer to buying the historic Blue Ridge Swim Club after the Albemarle County Planning Commission recommended approval of a special use permit February 22. While commissioners cited dozens of letters from Swim Club neighbors supportive of Barnett's plan, other neighbors say they're willing to fight to keep the camp out of the neighborhood.
"It is not an acceptable use of the property," says Frazier Bell, a 33-year neighbor to the Blue Ridge Swim Club– a 13-acre parcel featuring a unique, century old, hundred-yard-long spring-fed pool.
Bell says he objects to the potential noise and traffic he believes the Camp will bring and, in particular, by its founder's plan to construct a 2,000 square-foot outdoor pavilion.
"Twice as long as most houses," Bell says an email following the hearing. "And, it will mean clearing a large area for the structure and around it. They plan on campfires. No one addressed the possibility of fire safety."
Bell is not alone in opposition. At least five other Owensville Road-area residents, including Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins, expressed concerns at the recent hearing, most stressing the potential for increased traffic, trespassing, and noise from the estimated 60 campers who attend Field Camp at any one time during the summer months.
"Any rational person can expect that a significant amount of noise will be generated," said Cathy O'Donoghue, whose property adjoins the Club. "I feel our quality of life will undoubtedly suffer."
But those who support Barnett's plan– which would save the historic pool and spare the property from development– convinced the Commissioners, who voted 7-0 to approve Barnett's purchase and 6-1 to approve a 10-year permit for the Camp, which, for 11 years, has been operated at Camp Albemarle on Free Union Road.
"I can't imagine a better noise to listen to than a bunch of kids having a good time," said Shirley Cunningham, whose property backs up to the Club. "I cannot imagine anything in this day and time where kids can walk to a structured event five days a week."
Other supporters suggested that the ubiquitous summer sound of lawnmowers and music from stereos presents more disruption to summer idylls than any camp and pointed out the summer break from nearby Meriwether Lewis Elementary School means that Owensville Road should have plenty of capacity for dropping off and picking up happy campers.
Barnett offered to restrict the number of people on-site at any time to 200 and asserted that two-thirds of campers will ride a bus to and from camp each day. He did note that he plans to upgrade the septic system to accommodate pool members, campers, and holiday events that might be held on site.
With Planning Commission approval, the Board of Supervisors will get the final say on the matter by early April, Barnett hopes. It won't necessarily be smooth sailing (or instant kumbayahs), however, as some neighbors may be there to oppose the move.
"We plan to fight it," Bell promises.