Riverpark Campground, owned by Bruce and Nancy Gantenbein, is one of four campgrounds in the county. (Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
The Washington County Regional Planning Commission will begin a review of current campground zoning allowances and restrictions tonight, following a number of requests to the county’s Zoning Administrators’ Office for more inviting outdoor recreational opportunities.
Commissioners will be given homework: a three-page explanation of Sullivan County’s campground rules and regulations. This does not mean Washington County will be employing its neighbors’ campground rules, which include permitting greater density. It is a very preliminary move that likely will include a look at other counties’ campground zoning laws as well as some creative in-house suggestions, said Chris Pape, chief deputy zoning administrator.
“We want to see what our options are,” Pape said. “The basic idea is to make them more user-friendly. We also want to make them more inviting for race fans. I wouldn’t say we’re going to use any other county’s plans. We may create some new regulations from scratch. We’ve chose Sullivan County, because they seem to have the most comprehensive plan.”
Washington County’s four campgrounds are zoned A-3 (agriculture/business). The zoning allows a number of uses, including animal hospitals and kennels, shooting ranges and amusement parks.
Bruce and Nancy Gantenbein moved from California about 10 years ago and bought what is now Riverpark Campground off Tenn. Hwy. 81 S. on the Nolichucky River.
“Our business really starts to pick up the first week in May,” Bruce Gantenbein said. “There seems to be a push in this area, and I think they would like to expand their tourism base. The county really needs to have a restriction on the size of the property — to keep it large enough so that not just anybody can open ‘Joe’s Campground.’
“Campgrounds definitely need to be zoned in the right way. We do get race fans. We only get about half as many during the spring race than we do the fall race. But these are people looking for a little quiet, and they don’t mind the drive to Bristol Motor Speedway.”
Gantenbein said recreational vehicles make up the largest part of the campground’s clientele and that the county may want to consider what space is appropriate for them.
“The RV industry needs a standard of where they place their utility hook-ups,” he said. “People also need to consider the number and size of the ‘pop-outs,’ because space needed for them is continuing to grow.”
Planning commissioners are not expected to enter into any serious discussion regarding changing campground rules until they have studied their homework. They will, however, begin debating changes at the May 13 meeting.
“People have told us they’d like to see an expansion of uses, but we’re really just at a point now where we’re looking at which way to go — what do you like and what don’t you like?” Pape said. “Currently, we require that campgrounds operate on a minimum of 5 acres and have at least 1,200 feet of parking space. There also has to be at least 50 feet between camping sites. If you look at the zoning for campgrounds in neighboring counties, they allow for a smaller distance.”