By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: October 3, 2018 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – “I think there are other places you can put this adventure park.”
That was the consensus among nearly a half-dozen Branchester Lakes residents who spoke during last week’s public hearing on a special exception request for a proposed outdoor adventure park that would find its home in an undeveloped portion of Scott Park near their neighborhood, Tree Time Adventures.
Last week’s special exception public hearing was the next step in the park’s process of becoming a reality after supervisors approved entering into a multi-year lease agreement with Tree Time Adventures, operated by John Bogue, during their meeting in July. That agreement would allow the park to occupy and develop space in an undeveloped and rugged portion of Scott Park that is currently unsuitable for further creation of ball fields.
According to that lease agreement, Tree Time Adventures is granted the ability to use roughly 30 of the 130 acres the company requested to use as part of the park’s development, with the ability to expand that footprint beyond the initial 30 acres remaining based on the performance of the park, but that decision would come back to supervisors.
In his pitch earlier this year, Bogue explained Tree Time Adventures would be a full feature outdoor adventure park, with the flagship experience being the “tree-top adventure,” which would include an obstacle course within the trees of Scott Park, along with a variety of other activities such as tightropes, jungle bridges, crab walks, “Tarzan ropes,” and zip lines.
Paired with the tree-top experiences, younger attendees would be able to traverse through a “Junior Adventure,” which would emulate that experience, but closer to the ground and less challenging.
The final element of Tree Time Adventures would be ground-based as the outdoor park would utilize the earth and soil around the trees to create a number of ground courses. Those courses would be, according to Bogue, military-style fitness trails that would be prime opportunities for special events, such as family fun runs, charity runs, and other outdoor events.
Something seen during both the discussion of the lease agreement and last week’s presentation was a lack of an exact fixed location of where the adventure park’s actual footprint would be inside the 130 acres identified by Bogue and the county. Officials from the county planning department did note an update that came about during the project’s time before the Prince George Planning Commission, that would require the facility to maintain a 100-foot buffer from residential lot lines, roughly a quarter of a football field.
Other conditions, including the hours of operation for the park being sunrise to sunset, along with event staff and police notice being required for any public event being held at the facility would also be in place through either the special exception request or the currently in place lease agreement between the county and Tree Time Adventures’ Bogue.
It was those conditions, along with uncertainty about exactly where the park would go within the 130 acres of Scott Park that drew a half-dozen Branchester Lakes residents to last week’s meeting, with those speaking during the public hearing noting their small group represents a larger group residents in the neighborhood who are opposed to this proposed adventure park.
“I don’t want an amusement park in my backyard,” resident Kaitlyn Payne said. “I work and have to be able to get some sleep, and while 100 feet sounds like a lot, it’s really not. I don’t want to be woken up because of noise that could be coming from the park.”
Payne also expressed concerns about plans by Tree Time Adventures to create walking trails throughout the 130 acres of undeveloped property that would move through the area surrounding the park. In July, following questions from another resident during a public hearing on the county’s lease agreement with Tree Time Adventures, Bogue said the park and county should work together to help expand walking and riding trails through the wooded area.
“We have a lot of kids who live in this neighborhood and I don’t want some sicko wandering from that land, on purpose or not,” she continued.
Noise was brought up by a vast majority of those who spoke during last week’s public hearing, all of them concerned about sounds radiating beyond the 100-foot minimum buffer to residential lines proposed in the special exception.
“This is too close for comfort,” resident Demetria Dennis said to supervisors, with Roslyn Thompson adding to Dennis’ comments, remarking, “I bought a home in that area and I like where I live because it is a calm and quiet area. I don’t the park there and I think there are other places to put an adventure park.”
Along with noise, concerns about the need for a police presence also served to be points of contention for Branchester Lakes residents, with the special exception requiring the police be notified of any public event being held at the park.
“If you need police protection there, you already know you have a problem,” resident Lynette Lee said as supervisors listened on.
Gretchen Petty added to Lee’s comments, questioning, “If they need police there, then I am concerned because my grandchildren play outside so, do I need to be outside all the time to watch them?”
Others said they didn’t receive notifications about the public hearing on the special exception request by Bogue and Tree Time Adventures for the site. According to county documents, “all property owners adjacent to the proposed project location” was notified for an August 9 community meeting. In the planning commission’s report, that meeting brought “positive contributions” toward the community’s concerns of “transportation, parking, adjacent property owner privacy, noise, and the proximity of the course relative to the entire park property,” with the commission’s report stating, “Overall, the community appeared to be receptive to a regional adventure park being located at Scott Park.”
Regarding last week’s hearing on the special exception, it was advertised in the Progress-Index newspaper in the days prior to the meeting, as is required by law.
“I don’t know why I didn’t get a letter but others did,” resident Lee said. “I would definitely appreciate a better notification system.”
Following the hearing, Supervisor Floyd Brown explained to concerned residents that the public hearing was based on the information that is gleaned by the planning commission through their vetting of the project and working with the developer, with community comments during that stage of the process playing a key role in if the commission will recommend approval to supervisors. According to county documents, the commission did pass along an approval recommendation to supervisors, with a number of conditions, including the buffer, hours of operations, construction being limited to Monday through Saturday, among others.
While not speaking during the hearing, Tree Time Adventures owner Bogue did leave to speak with residents outside the meeting after supervisors unanimously agreed to table a decision on the park until their next meeting on October 9.
Bogue made a similar proposal in neighboring Dinwiddie earlier this year. At that time, both the planning commission and board of supervisors voted against the proposal after residents spoke before both bodies citing concerns about the proposed park’s impact on local traffic and the local ambiance of the nearby neighborhood.