By Scott Sullivan
California-based Autocamp is proposing a 112-site campground with 6,000-square-foot clubhouse, small market store, pool, hot tubs, spa or sauna and group gathering spaces on 29.24 acres owned by Chad Van Hornnorthwest of Blue Star Highway where it veers further southwest at Holland Street.
The Saugatuck Township Zoning Board of Appeals will hear firm representative John Hesse’s special approval use request at a public hearing Monday, Nov. 28, in the township hall, 3461 Blue Star Hwy., starting at 6 p.m.
Also on the night’s ZBA agenda will be Holland Hospital’s special use with conditional site plan request for a 16,352-square-foot health and human service building on 3.11 acres at 3500 Blue Star, as detailed here last week.
Hesse, acquisitions director for Outdoor Lodgings Fund II Holdings LLC with the same Suite 121 Mason St., Suite B, Santa Barbara address, describes Autocamp (website autocamp.com) as a leader in outdoor hospitality whose existing locations in Yosemite and Joshua Tree national parks, the Russian River, Cape Cod and the Catskills “are known for beautiful modern Airstream suites, modern cabins, and luxurious tents.
“AutoCamp, the firm’s project narrative goes on, “has revolutionized alternative lodging by blending the traditional outdoors experience with the service and design of a boutique hotel.
“From luxury linens, bedding, and bathrobes to mid-century modern inspired reception and meeting space, AutoCamp has reimagined the outdoor lodging experience for the modern adventurer,” the firm’s pitch says.
For Saugatuck to join its “portfolio of nationally-significant locations” in an “iconic outdoor destination market,” the firm needs an SAU from the township.
Guests, per its plan, would arrive through a gated private drive off Blue Star with punch-key entrance, park personal vehicles at the clubhouse, then walk to their chosen suites with “everything required for a camping experience readily accessible.” Operations would be year-round.
Based on feedback from township residents and officials at a Sept. 12 application hearing, Autocamp withdrew it, says the project narrative, to address concerns about:
• Blue Star Highway safety – The firm and seller claim they will fund a $200,000 escrow account prior to permits being issued to engineer and install a traffic light at Holland Street plus eliminate curb cuts that now exist at the Shull Motel and a single-family home there, leaving a single access point on the existing private drive;
• Traffic study – Autocamp-commissioned Fleis & VandenBrink engineer Jacob Swanson and will adhere to his recommendation of a tapered deceleration lane for southbound traffic, helping to facilitate its design and installation along with a crosswalk in addition to the traffic signal.
• Noise – Plans call for the project to be mostly surrounded by an 8-foot landscaped berm, existing trees and shrubs to protect guests from Blue Star traffic noise and neighbors from unintended on-site noise. Also, the narrative notes, Autocamp strictly enforces it 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. quiet hours;
• Operational safety – The firm claims all general managers and assistants undergo months-long training requiring certifications not only day-to-day operations but emergency management, life safety procedures, employee injuries and risk management.
• Bicycle and pedestrian safety – Adding a traffic light and crosswalk, says Hesse, will address that. Pedestrians and cyclists exiting the site will otherwise largely use the adjacent existing bike path along Blue Star and Holland Street.
• Air quality – The firm provides guests a special wood, the only one they can use for burning, made to produce low smoke and fewer embers, and offered to demonstrate it to Saugatuck Township Fire District officials. It would be rare if ever, says the narrative, that most campers have fires burning, as they will look to be off site exploring regional vineyards, restaurants, shops. picnicking and more at least one of their two-night average stays during the summer high season.
• Size – Since Sept. 12 the firm has secured more land from the seller to help reduce campground impacts and preserve more trees.
• Density – Autocamp has reduced its proposal from 120 to now 112 sites. The firm said choosing a development site near town would reduce auto traffic as guests can walk, bike and/or take the Interurban to explore the area.
• Impact on local services – The developer claims it has received a review letter from the township’s contract engineer concluding water and wastewater service have enough capacity to handle Autocamp’s added load on them, and is complying with all fire district safety and design requirements.
To concerns Autocamp’s Cape Cod site had experienced issues with its septic solution plant, the firm noted a third-party contractor’s design problem was identified and corrected, plus here it will use a municipal waste connection.
The firm claims its plan meets township ordinance Sec. 40-693 Campgrounds, Travel Trailer and Recreational Vehicle parks special use standards that it:
• Be designed, constructed, operated and maintained in a manner harmonious with the character of adjacent property and the surrounding area;
• Shall not change the essential character of the surrounding area;
• Shall not be hazardous to adjacent property or involve uses, activities, materials or equipment detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of persons or property by traffic, parking requirements, noise, vibration, smoke, fumes or glare; and
• Shall not place demands on public services and facilities in excess of capacity.
“The entire AutoCamp team,” it concludes, “is grateful for the community’s consideration of this request. We look forward to working with all community stakeholders to resolve any outstanding concerns and to hopefully become valued members of the community.”
The firm’s 49-page ZBA application with attachments may be reviewed at the township hall.
By Scott Sullivan