Ropes course, zip-line business denied by county
by Carrie C. Causey
LOUISBURG — The Franklin County commissioners meeting Monday became the scene of a courtroom, complete with objections and requests to “approach the bench.”
On trial: A proposed “adventure park” with a zip line, ropes course and other obstacles for team development in the woods of Youngsville off Fleming Road.
After more than two hours of testimony, evidence and rebuttals, commissioners found the applicants, Tree to Tree, guilty of potential increased noise and not harmonizing with surrounding neighbors. Following the quasi-judicial hearing, the special-use permit was denied by a vote of 5-2, with commissioners Harry Foy and John May dissenting.
Tree to Tree (T2T) Director of Marketing and co-owner Julie Beres spoke on behalf of her family’s company, which is currently a thriving and award-winning business in their home of Gaston, Ore. She and her husband, Harry, run the business with their sons.
Because their proposal to use the 10-acre lot for the adventure park was previously denied recommendation for unspecified reasons by the Franklin County planning board in a 5-4 vote, Beres and her lawyer, Larry Norman, tried their best to sway commissioner votes in the other direction Monday.
“We want people to feel they are in the country,” she said, adding that it’s great for adults because “Highly skilled people become more of a team as they are out of their comfort zone, out of the office and in the forest.”
But residents stood their ground against the idea, offering evidence for opposition, a petition of 250 signatures, plus hiring a lawyer of their own.
“I realize this is good team building. …What they are proposing is great, but not here,” said attorney Andy Gay of Zebulon. “Find somewhere else other than these people’s backyards.”
A place to enjoy
The proposal for T2T describes the mixed-use zoned location as a nature park/retreat to offer team-building exercises for companies, youth groups, schools, churches, etc. in an outdoor setting. They applied for the special-use permit under the conference center and retreat facility designation.
Norman said he thought they could have made a case to designate it as a park, which wouldn’t have needed any special permitting.
The closest similar facilities are located in Fayetteville and Charlotte, though Beres countered that they only offer zip lines.
T2T would encompass 60 challenges or elements, including zip lines, wobbly bridges, “Tarzan” jumps, a ropes course and other activities.
“Obstacles vary in difficulty and height,” Beres said. “It’s team building with core values. Through team building, you learn loyalty, trust.”
Though Beres said there wouldn’t be any permanent structures, she said the facility would include a parking lot for 48 cars as well as a welcome center and restrooms.
The Beres want to move back to the East Coast and make the adventure park a location destination as they have in their business in Oregon, which has won several awards for best new tourist spot and the best new asset bringing revenue and enhancing the county by the county chamber of commerce.
“It gets people out and feeling good about themselves in a safe environment,” she said of its appeal.
The Beres tried to show the site wouldn’t have a strong impact, negating traffic, safety and noise concerns.
“This is not the Six Flags over Youngsville, it’s a small family business,” Julie said.
Piece of mind
Nearby families challenged how it would impact their way of living, as they have for previous proposals for the area.
Resident George Halsey presented each commissioner with the petition, reiterating the number of people who moved there for the environment and who contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars in county taxes.
“We chose Franklin County for its high quality of life, especially the peace and quiet,” he said.
Neighbor Kevin Potter also spoke about the potential disturbance of peace saying he had no proof sound would be blocked by the trees. He played a clip from T2T’s own ad, depicting a girl screaming as she zipped down. Beres later clarified the video was taken for a television show and was exaggerated.
In his closing statements, Norman said children squealing is a sound of joy, rather than them “using their thumbs” (texting or video games) or watching television. An activity like this provides an opportunity to swing on the trees and enjoy nature, he said.
But also in disagreement were father and son Gary and Bradley Thiede, neighbors who purchased land for two homes nearby and didn’t want to live next door to “hollering and squealing.”
“Finally I’m at the point in my life I’m able to build a beautiful home close to Youngsville and get away from it all,” Bradley said. “I’m opposed to this going in. Would anyone like people to be wandering around the trees looking at my wife and children as they are swimming in the pool? Put yourselves in our position.”
Foy, who supported the permit, pointed out there was a list of things that could be in the space instead. Among the permitted uses for mixed-use are laundromats, hardware stores, auto parts stores, retail businesses, community pools and orphanages.
He said other things could really clash compared to a business like this surrounded by trees.
Gay countered, “How many people come out of your hardware store at 8 p.m. and scream at the top of their lungs to have fun? The reason you don’t have a classification for amusement centers is no one wants to live around an amusement park. We want the fair to come and the fair to go.”
In addition to saying no to the facility use for T2T, Commissioner Don Lancaster suggested they consider changing the zoning of the area to residential.
•Check written: The board agreed to send a $74,000 check to the Council of Governments to repay mishandled funding. The COG reportedly dipped into federal funds earmarked for something else and were unable to pay it back. They asked governing bodies to help make up a more than $300,000 difference of money owed back to the fund and needed for operating expenses.
•Budget passed: The board unanimously approved the budget with no tax increases, though there are pay raises and new positions for county employees. Prior to the vote, the board lessened the amount given to the library to offer them more time to plan satellite branches and gave more to the domestic violence organization Safe Space.
•Meeting changed: The next county commissioners meeting will be held Monday, July 8 at 7 p.m.