The Richmond County, Va., Board of Supervisors voted to rezone the property from agricultural to mixed-use to make way for a 976-acre resort that would include a golf course, 116-room lodge, more than 700 homes, seven piers, horse center and vineyard. Opponents of the plan have cited multiple environmental concerns, because the scenic area is one of the most important bald eagle gathering spots in the country.
Richmond County, Va., gave the go-ahead Thursday for a $330 million luxury resort at Fones Cliffs, a scenic wonder that’s also one of the most important bald eagle gathering spots in the eastern U.S., the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
The county Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to rezone the property, which features cliffs towering up to 150 feet above the Rappahannock River, from agricultural to a mixed-use designation, the Times-Dispatch reported.
The rezoning was requested by the property owner, Diatomite Corporation of America, which plans to build a 976-acre resort that includes a 116-room lodge, more than 700 homes, seven piers, a golf course, a horse center and a vineyard. The project would be called Fones Cliffs Resort & Spa, the Times-Dispatch reported.
The proposal has sparked concern, with opponents citing fears about pollution, erosion, traffic and especially potential harm to the eagles. C&RB reported on those concerns in July.
Robert Coleman Smith, a Richmond lawyer representing Diatomite, said the supervisors were motivated by “good, common sense. I think they understand that man and nature can peacefully coexist,” Smith said.
Peggy Sanner, assistant Virginia director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which opposes the resort, said the environmental group will keep a close eye on the project and may even challenge the rezoning in court. “It’s not over yet,” Sanner said.
Thursday’s vote came after a 35-minute closed session—for legal advice, supervisors said—but little public discussion. Supervisor John L. Haynes Jr. of Warsaw said the resort could attract new businesses, jobs and tourism, the Times-Dispatch reported.
“I think overall it’s beneficial to the majority of the citizens of Richmond County,” Haynes said after the meeting.
Also in Diatomite’s favor, Haynes said, were several pledges made by the company, including one to build farther from the river than the now-required 100 feet if the supervisors deem that necessary. “If we say 400, it’s 400,” Haynes said.
The sole nay vote came from board Chairman Lee Sanders, who represents the district in which Fones Cliffs lies. Among other problems, “our wealthy new neighbors” will put a strain on rural roads, Sanders said.
“Before you vote, please think about the people (who will be affected by the project) every day,” while project officials “will be somewhere else, counting their money,” Sanders said.
The cliffs are a magnet for bald eagles, which perch along the heights to spot ducks and other prey. The resort would generate so many people on the land and boaters in the river that the disturbances would force most of the eagles to move elsewhere, according to Bryan Watts, a bird expert with Virginia Commonwealth University and the College of William and Mary.
Smith, the Diatomite lawyer, has said the debate over Fones Cliffs “is likely the most important property rights case in Virginia.”
But David Hand, who lives near the cliffs, said the development’s impact would be felt beyond Virginia. “It’s like building a house on Yosemite Falls. It’s not right.”
Diatomite is owned by Miami entrepreneur Allan Applestein, 82, who bought the Fones Cliffs property in 1958, Smith said. The company is named after “diatomaceous earth” at the site, which can be mined for cat litter, among other things, the Times-Dispatch reported.