By Brandon Martin
The Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals recently approved a special use permit to make way for a campground facility that will be created on about 63 acres of land in the Reed Creek District.
The campground will accommodate up to 15 sites and the applicant intends to build an amphitheater using the natural lay of the land.
Andy Bowersox, executive director of Energize Ministries of Winston-Salem, N.C., submitted the application and presented additional details at the Feb. 24 meeting.
“For about six years now, we have been leasing this property to hold leadership retreats,” Bowersox said. “Our ministry is about supporting primarily pastors and other clergy members. We are an encouragement, refreshment and recreation-based ministry to boost up community leadership.”
Bowersox said the non-profit hosts 1- to 3- day retreats on a weekly basis.
“We provide individual retreats, marriage retreats, family retreats” and staff retreats for larger churches, Bowersox said.
As the ministry has grown, Bowersox said there was a need for additional places to house guests.
“We came up with the concept of putting some campsites in up there so that we could bring people up from time to time for 1,2 or 3 days,” Bowersox said. “The amphitheater part is part of a longer-term vision for the additional 620 acres that adjoins this property. It’s a place where we could host some community concerts and worship nights.”
Bowersox said the amphitheater could eventually potentially be available to the public as a venue for events like weddings.
“It’s almost a God-made amphitheater already,” he said. “There would be very minimal grading involved with it. We don’t intend to put seating through there. We would finish it up with some gravel pathways and maybe some fire pits. There would be a stage, or a presentation area, at the bottom.”
While future evening events are possible, according to Bowersox, it “will be primarily a day-time use” facility that wouldn’t violate any noise ordinances.
Lee Clark, director of Henry County Planning, Zoning and Inspections, said the ordinance would alleviate any concerns adjoining property owners have about the amphitheater.
“The county has a noise ordinance already that is in effect all the time,” regardless of “whether it’s the applicant or somebody that wants to go out there and play music,” Clark said, and added that the noise ordinance prohibits amplified sound after 10 p.m.
Bowersox said the retreats attract between 400 and 500 guests a year to the area.
During his tenure as director, Clark said “I had no idea that people were staying up there on a somewhat regular basis now. That’s a testament to how you all have been operating up until this point.”
Depending on future funds, Bowersox said Energize Ministries hopes to purchase the additional 600-acres.
“We hoped that would have happened already, but we aren’t quite there yet,” he said. “Our ministry is nonprofit, and we are supported by contributions from people that are inclined to give.”
Bowersox explained that Energize Ministries isn’t a church, but rather serves churches.
“The caliber of our guests is leaders,” he said. “We are not an addiction ministry, a recovery ministry or a trafficking ministry. We support leadership” that provide “those services in this community and many others.”
Before the board approved the special use permit, Clark outlined some additional conditions that must be met by the applicant.
“It has to meet the Virginia Department of Health guidelines for operating a campground,” Clark said. “The applicant cannot substantially change the use or ownership unless it is the exact same use that is continuing. Examples of a change of use would be operating as a drug rehab facility, a boys and girls rehab home, and a commercial campground. I would consider each one of those a substantial change to the use that is being proposed today.”
In other matters, the board:
*Approved a special use permit from a continued case on a project by Axton Solar, LLC.
The project, through the developer Vesper Energy, would construct a 200 MW solar energy facility across 21 discontinuous privately-owned parcels in Henry County. It would also include 16 parcels in Pittsylvania County.
Trey Lopez, the assistant development manager, said a little over half of the project would be in Henry County. He added that 50 percent of the property taxes would also go to the county.
“Based on initial estimates over 35 years, we are looking at an average of $200,000 per year going to the county in additional property tax revenue,” Lopez said. “It’ll bring in additional construction jobs with approximately 12- to 14- months of construction. There will be additional revenue from those individuals purchasing food, hotels and that sort of thing.”
In January, several adjoining property owners voiced concerns about the project being rushed.
The board gave the applicant an additional month to contact those residents, with an understanding that another public hearing would not be held before a final decision on Feb. 24.
“I have to say, they’ve done exactly what we asked them to do,” Clark said. “They held their meeting at the Galilean Church, they put up several signs, they acquired our list of adjoining property owners that we used to mail the legal requirements for notifications, and they did that by certified mail. I commend them for the efforts they made in trying to make folks aware this time.”
The applicant also made a slight adjustment to the length of the setback on property owned by Bill and Beth Oliver. While the setback for every other adjoining property is 50-feet, the applicant agreed to have a 100-foot setback on the Oliver property.
“There’s no mention of what can take place within that 100 feet,” Clark said, and included additional conditions before the permit was approved.
“One is that 100-feet not only apply to” the Oliver property “but also that 100-feet be considered an undisturbed area. Meaning that you would leave all the trees and the undergrowth within that area,” Clark said. “Also, that same requirement” be applied “to the rear property line of all properties along the north side of Pasadena Knoll and the west side of Stoney Mountain Road.”
For more information about the Axton Solar project, visit: https://henrycountyenterprise.com/additional-solar-projects-discussed-in-county/.
*Approved a special use permit to Caleb Knighten to allow for the construction of an off-site general advertising sign in the Collinsville District.
The board imposed an additional requirement when issuing the permit that mandated it be exercised within five years. If at any time in the future the sign becomes vacant and unused for a period of 12 consecutive months, the sign and support structure must be removed. A form of surety also was required to guarantee that the structures would not evolve into unsafe/abandoned structures without a means to remove them.