Planning Commission denies permits to $100 million agri-tourist resort

By Heather Michon

Plans to build a $100 million luxury agri-tourism resort on Rolling Road South ran aground at the Dec. 6 meeting of the Planning Commission, as commissioners denied the multiple special use permits needed to get the project underway.

Sun Outdoors, a Michigan-based developer of resorts, marinas, and campgrounds across North America, first introduced the idea in March: converting the 750-acre Reventon Farm into a resort offering an “authentic farm experience” along with hiking, boating, horseback riding, and other amusements.

By late June, the project had been renamed “Briery Creek Farm,” with the developer sharing plans for the construction of 240 luxury cabins and a new event space. They projected Briery Creek Farm would create 100 permanent jobs, $30 million in estimated economic impact, and millions in tax revenue for Fluvanna County.

Residents in the Rolling Road area did not embrace this proposal, raising concerns about traffic, noise, and loss of rural viewsheds.

What ended up souring commissioners, however, was that the developers had not explained how the facilities would be constructed and had slow-walked an economic report that showed Fluvanna would see little benefit from the resort.

That the developers were planning on using “park model” cabins rather than stick-built cabins “came as a bit of a surprise to us,” Community Development Director Douglas Miles told commissioners during his presentation.  

Park model structures are prefabricated and built on a trailer frame. Once delivered to the site, the tires are deflated and the trailer hitch removed as the building is set on a permanent foundation. Since they are technically trailers, they fall under different building codes than traditional stick-built homes, leading Miles to raise concerns about health and safety standards. 

Sun Outdoors Senior Vice President Bill Raffoul argued that park model cabins are widely used in “resorts all over the world,” including luxury resorts. Prefabricated cabins were more cost-efficient for developers, but he argued it didn’t mean that there was a lack of quality to the buildings.

“If that’s the case, why haven’t you mentioned it before?” asked Chairman Barry Bibb.

Raffoul said they felt it was “a nonissue.”

Of the 750 acres, only 278 are in Fluvanna County with the rest in Albemarle. A maximum of 40 cabins would be built on the Fluvanna side.

Commissioner Mike Goad said he had received an economic impact report from the developer just before the meeting. 

He said the report stated Fluvanna would see 15.7 percent of the fiscal impact from Briery Creek, with 84.3 percent going to Albemarle. The annual net income to Fluvanna was estimated at just $310,000. As a comparison, Goad said, it would take 25 years for Fluvanna to see $9.2 million in revenue; Albemarle would make the same amount in four years.

Goad added that the figures assumed 40 cabins were on the Fluvanna side. In reality, the developer could choose to build all the cabins on the Albemarle side.

Commissioner Lorretta Johnson-Morgan said it looked to her “like a lot is being hidden from Fluvanna that wasn’t hidden from Albemarle.

In rapid succession, commissioners denied permits for the construction of a camp facility, water, and sewer by a vote of 5-0. They also denied a permit for a new event facility by a 4-1 vote.

Project manager Steve Blaine said he was “crestfallen” that they had failed to provide commissioners with the information in a more timely manner and said they would take some lessons from the evening as they evaluated their next steps.

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