Roughed up: Golf course project almost there

Gaylon Beights has been trying to get his Crozet golf course approved by the Albemarle Planning Commission for the past year and a half. Everything was looking green on January 28, when the 18-hole Old Trail project got a thumbs up from the commission but had to head back to the drawing board because adjoining property owners hadn't been notified.

Beights explains the county's snafu. When he submitted an application in April 2002, the county didn't want a golf course to eat up 207 of the 485 acres Beights and his partners own in the designated growth area around Crozet.

He withdrew the application, bought an adjoining farm, and resubmitted the application with only 45 acres inside the residential growth area defined in the Crozet Master Plan. But when it came time to notify adjoining property owners, only those surrounding the original parcel were notified.

"There was a clerical error," says county planner Scott Clark about the property which lies across from Western Albemarle High School on U.S. 250 west.

"It's very frustrating," says Beights, "but it's better to go through with it now than to be setting up tee times and find out we don't have permits."

At the January 28 hearing, the four property owners who did show up seemed supportive of having a golf course next door instead of another subdivision, says Beights.

"There was generally not a lot of opposition to the golf course as a whole," says Clark. "There were some concerns about details, such as where the roads would go."

Old Trail's owner is March Mountain Properties, LLC, whose principals are Beights, Jerry Kamis, Suzanne Staton, and Jay Jessup. While golf courses are frequently derided for looking– rather than acting– green, these owners tout the fact that the course will be an Audubon Sanctuary, which means that 137 of the course's 207 acres will be kept as a natural habitat with native plants.

"It's a neat thing to do with commercial property," says Beights, "and we're also weaving walking trails into the property."

Beights lists other benefits of Old Trail: The property has two ponds, so they won't be drilling wells to water the course. The $7.5 million project will generate sales tax revenues from greens fees, and he expects to employ "almost 70" people.

The plan is to plant grass this fall and– if all goes well– open the course in fall 2004.

With Laurel Ridge, Meadow Creek, McIntire Park, Swannanoa, Birdwood, and Wintergreen in the area, why would local duffers need another public course?

Two reasons, replies Beights. For one, Old Trail will be a challenging 7,000 yards long and a par 72 course. "In the golfing world, that's large, a true championship course," says Beights.

And the anticipated $34 greens fee qualifies the course as affordable, especially compared to the $100 it costs to tee off at Wintergreen on a weekend during peak season, explains Beights. "This will make an amenity for the county."

Beights and course designer Jerry Kamis appeared back in front of the planning commission February 25, when once again, the commission smiled on their special use permit by a 5-0 vote. The project goes before the Board of Supervisors March 5, a few hours after The Hook's deadline.

On a visit to Scotland, Beights was impressed that golf courses there are public places with walking trails and benches. "Golf is just one of the things that take place on them," he says. He wants to replicate that with Old Trail, which he thinks will attract bird watchers and cross country runners as well as golfers.

In effect, Old Trail will be a privately owned public park, and that's Beights' dream. "We're so conditioned to think of golf courses as private property," he says. "Even with public courses like Meadow Creek, you don't think about using them for something other than golf."

And he reassures hikers who might worry about getting beaned by a golf ball that most of the trails are some distance from the fairway. "I guess you could be hit, but it would be an effort," he says.

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