Madison supes to consider permit request for ‘glamping’ site near Oakpark

GRACIE HART BROOKS Madison County Eagle

The Madison County Board of Supervisors will consider a special use permit this coming week for a proposed glamping project.

Realtor and developer Ahmed Helmi is requesting the permit to create his “Robinson River Natural Retreat” on approximately 58.6 acres on Fords Shop Road near the intersection with Beahm Town Road in the Oakpark area. The land is a mix of two parcels, both zoned A-1, agriculture.

Helmi’s vision is to offer luxury accommodations nestled in nature that will attract repeat visitors while respecting the natural habitat. He hopes to create up to 70 short-term rental units with a mixture of cabins and glamping tents as well as a single structure containing a lodge, restaurant and wellness center. He would also construct a spa tent, maintenance and housekeeping building, a pavilion and employee housing buildings.

The rental units would average $350 per night and Helmi estimates the project would employ more than 30 full-time and part-time employees plus partner with local businesses for the construction of the retreat as well as food and attractions like visiting local wineries and breweries. Helmi has indicated 28 of the rental units would hold up to five people and 42 would be double occupancy.

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Proposed conditions on the SUP limit the occupancy of the entire project to 224. Helmi would also be required to obtain a boundary line adjustment to officially combine the two parcels of his project. Events would be limited to only those serving overnight guests except for the restaurant which will be open to the public. Cabins and tents cannot exceed 700 square feet and the spa tent cannot exceed 600 square feet, according to proposed conditions.

The combined lodge, restaurant, registration and bar building would be capped at 7,000 square feet; the maintenance and housekeeping building would be 3,500 square feet maximum; the employee housing buildings, of which there will be three, cannot exceed 9,500 square feet and the cart storage shed cannot exceed 1,200 square feet. Along with the site plan, lighting and landscaping plans must be submitted and a stormwater management plan and erosion/sediment plan will be required by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

There would be no structures permitted in the flood plain and the sewer system and water supply have to meet Virginia Department of Health standards. The entrance and exit designs would follow VDOT requirements as site signage is limited to three exterior monument-style signs not exceeding five feet in height and 40 square feet in sign area with external lighting.

Parking would be configured for approximately 100 cars and an emergency management plan with its own requirements, including medical equipment, has to be submitted to the county’s emergency management coordinator. Fires will only be allowed in designated fire pits and construction is limited to the hours of 7 am to 7 pm Monday through Friday and 8:30 am to 6 pm Saturday with no construction on Sunday except in emergencies.

As in other projects planning commissioners have considered lately, a condition deals specifically with quiet hours, proposed from 10 pm to 7 am with no outside amplified sound during that time. Additionally, no event or gathering shall utilize amplified sound after 10 pm

Commissioner Peter Work suggested limiting the hours even more, with quiet hours from 9 pm to 8 am He also said he’d like the provision to apply to inside sound as well as outside sound. Supervisor Clay Jackson and planning commissioner Pete Elliott said regulating inside sound seems unreasonable.

Helmi said he would be happy to limit sound inside the accommodation units, but couldn’t tell his employees that they couldn’t watch television after quiet hours. He also said the buildings for employee housing would be soundproof. However, he said Work’s suggestion for quiet hours beginning at 9 pm would be very restrictive.

Commissioner Fay Utz agreed and Commissioner Nathan Cowan said the issue of enforcing the quiet hours would be self-regulating.

“Loud music during quiet hours is bad for business,” he said.

Elliott warned planning commissioners they have to be consistent on conditions from project to project. Helmi estimated his project would take approximately two years to build once permits are obtained.

Neighbor Josh Clark said there are still too many questions surrounding the project. He said it seems the county is pushing it through before getting the answers. He asked if the 224 occupancy limit included just guests or also employees and said the septic system has yet to be defined.

Clark said the project will cause noise and light pollution along with increased traffic on country backroads. He also pointed out that Helmi has previously indicated he may sell the project once permits are obtained. Arlene Atkins agreed.

She said initially Helmi said the operation would be seasonal, limited to April through November.

“Now it’s not,” she asked. “I don’t want to see this. There are too many adverse effects to [our] way of life.”

Teresa Felipe said county officials are shattering the neighbors’ lives to accommodate Helmi’s project.

“[He] doesn’t live here,” she said. “He’s bringing people out to enjoy the countryside, but it takes away from us.”

A public hearing on the application will be held at 7 pm on Nov. 2 at 414 N. Main St. in Madison. Also on the agenda is a hearing to amend and expand Good Hope Baptist Church’s SUP for its school. The church would like to expand the school to eventually accommodate up to 12th grade.

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