Large-scale campsite draws mixed reviews

Last modified: 9/29/2014 12:22:53 AM
Mentioning Rocky Pond gets mixed reactions in Canterbury, where a Conway couple want to build a 263-acre campsite near the Loudon town line. If approved, the 299-site campground would be among the state’s biggest private RV campsites.

Opponents of the campground worry about effects on the 83-acre pond and their properties, while supporters say it will be a boon for tourism and tax rolls in the rural town of 2,352.

Ed and Linda Schmid have proposed Mourning Dove Camping and RV Resort off Route 106, near the intersections of Canterbury, Gilmanton and Loudon. Visitors could camp from May to October, when full-time staffers would enforce campsite rules, including quiet time from 11 p.m to 8 a.m. Plans also include a 2,900-square-foot convenience store and laundromat on a swath of land zoned for commercial use. The Schmids scrapped plans for a recreational area that would have included playgrounds, swimming pools, tennis and other games on the pond’s shoreline.

Canterbury’s Zoning Board of Adjustment granted two special exceptions earlier this year for the plans, which survived a challenge in superior court. But until plans are filed with the planning department, questions outweigh answers.

Following lengthy public hearings last winter, the zoning board granted two special exceptions, one each for the campground and the convenience store. In granting those, the board said the project is in the public interest because it grows the town’s tax base and the property is big enough to support the use. Also, commercial campground is a permitted use with the special exception, which was found to be “consistent with the spirit of the ordinance.” The board ruled the campsite would not create a noise nuisance for neighbors.

After their motion for a second hearing was rejected, 17 abutters appealed the board’s decision in superior court. The neighbors alleged, among other things, that the zoning board did not provide adequate notice under state law, refused to allow public participation and held an illegal meeting preceding the special exception votes.

Superior court Judge James O’Neill ruled against the abutters. “Indeed, the use is expressly permitted by way of only special exception in the rural zone. The record supports a finding that the special exception would not harm the public health, safety and welfare, and would not alter the character of the neighborhood,” he wrote.

This clashes with residents who have voiced concerns about the potential impact to the pond, RV traffic in and out of the campground and noise.

“I’d respectfully say the zoning board doesn’t or didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of this proposed campground,” said John Wiencek, a seasonal Harmony Lane resident who is against the project. “If you go back and review some of the minutes, they kind of brushed aside the concerns of residents.”

Many of the questions about density, environmental impact and traffic would be answered at the planning board level. “The proposed campground is a planning board matter at this time. The project will only come to the selectmen if and when building permits and operating licenses are required,” said Bob Steenson, board of selectmen chairman in Canterbury.

“What would be the best case? Well, the plan not being submitted. That’s the best case scenario,” he said. “Realistically, I would assume they would submit an application. Basically, we are trying to minimize the impact on Rocky Pond, our properties and surrounding properties.”

Some elements of these campsites are misunderstood, said Gregg Pitman, executive director of the New Hampshire Campground Owners Association. The group represents 140 private campground owners in the state. Only two of those members have more than 400 sites, while 20 campsites have more than 200. “I think the average owner has about 150 sites so, yeah, it’s getting up there in size, but there are definitely bigger ones,” Pitman said.

The sites draw people into the local economy and are generally good neighbors, he said. Nearby Cascade Park has 289 sites, and Cold Springs in Weare has more than 400, he said. “I’ve talked to some of the neighbors and the perception is it’s going to be a bunch of drunken bikers,” Pitman said. “That’s one of the biggest misconceptions.”

Given the pond’s location, at the intersection of three towns, Canterbury has asked for input from Loudon and Gilmanton. A long-standing agreement sees Loudon firefighters responding to calls on Route 106 in Canterbury, and Loudon fire Chief Rick Wright said he’s aware of the potential impacts to his department.

“We want to be there to help people, but if we’re tied up there we may not be available to the people of Loudon,” Wright said. Firefighters aren’t called frequently to the 289-site Cascade Campground, he said. “It’s only occasional.”

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter@iainwilsoncm.)

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