Madison County could soon be home to another glamping venture.

Rose River Farm in Syria already earns accolades for its glamping yurt-style cabins. Now, a developer hopes to offer luxury tent-style glamping along the Robinson River.

Realtor and developer Ahmed Helmi is hoping to utilize a 38.6-acre parcel of land near the intersection of Fords Shop Road and Beahm Town Road for his “Robinson River Natural Retreat.” His vision is to offer luxury accommodations nested in nature that will attract repeat visitors while respecting the natural habitat. He hopes to obtain a special use permit (SUP) to create up to 70 short-term rental glamping units; a single structure containing a lodge, restaurant and wellness center; a maintenance/housekeeping building; and an employee housing building. The rental units would average $350 per night and Helmi estimates the project would employ more than 30 full-time and part-time employees plus partner with local businesses for the construction of the retreat as well as food and attractions like visiting local wineries and breweries. Helmi has indicated 35 of the rental units would be double occupancy and 35 would be up to four occupancy. The facility would likely be closed from the end of November until the beginning of April.

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Helmi was a partner in a similar project in Shenandoah County, but that partnership was dissolved and the property was sold to a developer who is carrying on the initial concept.

To gain feedback, Helmi gave planning commissioners a brief presentation of his vision in March and held a community information meeting earlier this month. He also answered questions during last week’s planning commission work session meeting and will be present at next month’s work session meeting as well. The application is expected to be part of the June joint public hearing with the board of supervisors.

County planner Ligon Webb said any additional time the public has to learn about the project is better. He said personally, he feels that 70 units is on the high end and would be more comfortable with 20-35.

“There [has to be a] balance between economic development and conservation,” he said. “[He’s] been upfront that he needs this kind of density to make this work; I’ve been up front it’s a large number.”

Webb said the project can ultimately only have the number of units that the sewer system will accommodate. The hard engineering will take place once the SUP is approved and will involve review processes with the Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

So far, local emergency service leaders have met at the site and developed a concept for how emergencies would be handled. Still, commissioners need more information before they can make a decision.

“I don’t think we have enough particulars to make a decision,” commissioner Danny Crigler said. “We know what he will do, but not how.”

Commission chairman Steve Carpenter pointed out that Crescere, a rural resort being developed near Uno, had a hydrological study conducted prior to its SUP hearing. Even with the vast information provided prior to the public hearing, the project still spent months in a legal battle with a neighboring property owner before the case was thrown out in favor of the resort.

Helmi said he plans to institute quiet hours at the retreat and glamping units will not contain televisions or radios. He said he plans to create privacy for each unit by working with the existing contours of the land and using existing trees to shade units. He also plans to install additional landscaping between units and create recreation opportunities near the river for guests. Webb suggesting using GIS to show the existing tree cover on the site.

Helmi said the concept for the retreat is very in-line with Madison’s vision.

Carpenter said he’d like to see potential proffers for the project at the next work session meeting.

Commissioner Fay Utz encouraged her fellow board members to keep an open mind about the project.

“We cannot imagine sitting here in Madison County what people are willing to do for a weekend and pay for,” she said. “We don’t want to be so narrow minded that we can’t imagine it [and] don’t want to be so narrow minded that we pass up on something. If he knows his customers to do it April through November, we ought to be open to hearing it.”

“It’s not my cup of tea, but look at Graves Mountain Lodge,” commissioner Nathan Cowan said. “If safety, sanitation, access and impact on neighbors are addressed and feasibly someone wants to come down from the city and stay in a place like this, we should consider it.”

Carpenter said questions about the project aren’t meant to be oppositional, but rather the commission wants something solid to look at.

Commissioner Michael Snider said the project matches with the second goal of the county’s comprehensive plan.

Neighboring property owner Josh Clark asked what would happen to the property if the project were to be abandoned. He asked if it would go back to being agricultural land. He also voiced concerns over traffic damaging the road which he said has flooded and bubbled up in the past.

Fords Shop Road Thomas Miller also had a host of questions which he submitted to the commission prior to the meeting. Like Clark, he voiced concerns over traffic impacts, as well as noise, trash, sewage, lighting, wildlife, trespassing, dogs and firearms.

The commission’s next work session meeting is scheduled for May 18 at 6:30 p.m.

published 2022-04-28 19:00:00