OAKHURST – A plan to build an RV and camping park along Road 632 in Oakhurst could pose “life threatening impacts” to area residents, according to a new petition being circulated this week by people living in the Sky Ranch Road neighborhood.
The petition drive comes after a Feb. 12 meeting in Oakhurst where Madera County Planning Commissioners OK’d plans for the new 40-acre, 109-space RV park, also planned to include more than 100 camping sites, 333 parking spaces, 6 yurts, 14 treehouses and nearly a dozen outbuildings.
Traffic congestion on Road 632 would “increase by 83 percent” if the RV park is built, according to the petition, which is addressed to all five county supervisors. “This was not evaluated in the reports” planning commissioners reviewed prior to project approval, the petition states.
The one-page document also notes, “Road 632 does not meet State Code Requirements for fighting wildland fires.”
County supervisors are expected to hold a public hearing and then vote on whether to give final approval to the controversial development at their Mar. 19 meeting.
District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler said this week he was aware of the new petition effort but was “unable to comment” on the RV park proposal until it “formally comes before the Board.”
Dan Metz is one of a number of Road 632 residents urging supervisors to delay a vote on the project, at least until a number of key “issues” including potentially adverse environmental impacts and inadequate wildfire evacuation plans are resolved.
Many Sky Ranch Road residents said they were stunned when the RV park plan won planning commission approval last month. Lori Silverman attended the Feb. 12 at the Oakhurst Community Center and called the planning commission’s decision “a lesson in local civics.”
In a letter to the editor of Sierra News Online, Silverman said, “I thought our representatives were elected or appointed to represent the citizens. Foolish me.”
Labeling the commission’s decision “a serious threat” to her neighborhood’s quality of life, Silverman noted there are currently only about 200 people living along Road 632 near the proposed development site.
“At full build-out, the RV and camping park will have a capacity of 800+ guests. That is a 400 percent increase in people along a two-lane rural road,” Silverman said. “It is laughable to think this is not an impact on the desirability of the neighborhood.”
Robert Yovino, a former Southern California school principal, said he moved to the Sky Ranch Road neighborhood “to retire in a nice, quiet, forested area.”
Yovino, who has traveled across the country in his own RV, said Road 632 as it intersects Highway 41, “just isn’t designed to handle 50-foot-long recreational vehicles. There is so much available acreage in Madera County,” Yovino added. “Why are they proposing to build the park on this particular property? It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Many area residents, including Yovino, also believe the addition of an RV park would negatively impact their property values.
“I know the county is pro-growth and I’m not against growth,” Yovino said. “But let’s grow somewhere where there’s room for growth.”
Metz and about half a dozen other Sky Ranch Road residents met with county planning department officials Monday afternoon at the proposed development site and Metz said their “ad hoc” group plans to argue their case further at the March 19 supervisor’s meeting.
“We’re going to have a slide show presentation” showing fire hazards, traffic congestion and potential emergency evacuation issues, Yovino said.
“I hate to think about it but if there’s a fire, imagine trying to evacuate up to 800 people out of an RV park while also trying to get all of the local residents safely out of the area. Other than Highway 41, the only other potential escape route is a 30-mile unpaved road that ends up at Bass Lake,” Yovino said.
“There’s just a whole lot of questions here,” he added. “We didn’t even find out about this plan as a community until just recently.”
Planning Commission Chair John Reed said at the Feb. 12 meeting that some type of development “is going to happen” on the proposed RV park site parcel, which at one time was used as a saw mill but has been abandoned for more than 50 years.
“I’ve walked [the site] and seen the homeless camps and the dead trees” in the area, Reed said before voting to approve the project and assuring concerned residents the developer, Irvine-based Red Tail Acquisitions, has presented a plan to mitigate the property’s “current issues and avoid other potential risks.”
The developers, Reed said, “seem to be trying to do everything right. I think [the project] will be a benefit to the community and a benefit to the neighborhood. And it’s better than other options.”
Red Tail Acquisitions, a privately held real estate investment firm founded in 1985, purchased the 40-acre parcel from Oakhurst Realtor John Thor for $560,000. According to its website, Red Tail has developed commercial properties around the country valued at more than $800 million and currently operates a portfolio totaling about 4.6 million square feet.
Rhonda Salisbury, CEO at Visit Yosemite/Madera County, said her organization supports the proposed RV park, which she said would help alleviate the summertime squeeze on RV and camping sites. “We recognize a need for this type of development in the area,” Salisbury said. “RV travel is hugely popular and we don’t have enough spaces to house visitors.”
But Silverman worries supervisor approval of the RV park will result in “the very real prospect of opening up more commercial development” in the Sky Ranch Road area which, aside from the Church of Christ community camp, Episcopal Conference Center Oakhurst (ECCO) grounds and Sierra Sky Ranch Hotel, remains predominantly residential.
Metz, a retired PG&E engineer, agrees and said the RV park development makes no sense.
“People around here are pissed,” he said. “This plan just doesn’t fit in to this community and would absolutely overwhelm us.”
“I know the county is pro-growth and I’m not against growth. But let’s grow somewhere where there’s room for growth,” Yovino said. “It’s not that we don’t want this park in our backyard. It just doesn’t belong here period.”