Salvation Army camp expansion OK39d 2009: Salvation Army

Salvation Army camp expansion OK39d

Salvation Army officials say they will do their best to work with neighbors unhappy after the Pennington County Commission finally OK'd the expansion of

the charity's youth camp west of Rapid City. Commissioners approved the necessary zoning change, 3-1, on Tuesday, almost five years after they first rejected the Salvation Army's plans to upgrade the 15-acre campground near Thunderhead Falls. "It's just like any neighbor does in any community. You're polite, you're nice, you're concerned, you express gratitude," said Mark Kirkeby, Black Hills development director for The Salvation Army. "The whole process of being a neighbor is certainly the focus of The Salvation Army camp." The camp, located about nine miles west of Rapid City and a mile south of S.D. Highway 44, has been the subject of neighborhood controversy since The Salvation Army unveiled its expansion plans back in 2003. In 2004, commissioners shot down the plan to add cabins, improved campsites, a dining hall and officer's residence after county planners raised concerns about campers' safety in the event of floods or wildfires. The camp is on Thunderhead Falls Road, a narrow, winding dead-end road that crosses Rapid Creek multiple times. Planning staff expressed the same safety concerns this time, but commissioners approved the plan with little discussion of their reasons. Under the approved planned unit development, The Salvation Army will be allowed to add a pastor's prayer retreat cabin, six tent platforms, five cabins, five RV sites and a dining/safety hall. Commissioner Ethan Schmidt, the lone "no" vote, said adding more buildings would be a step in the wrong direction. "I think we're going in the wrong direction," Schmidt said. "With this being a one-way in, over seven bridges out, I think there's a risk for safety for the children." Commissioner Brenda Young, whose district includes the camp, was not at the meeting. Currently, the site includes a lodge, two shower buildings, a picnic shelter, open-air church, officer's residence and two partially constructed tent platforms. Barb Felderman, who lives about 100 yards from the camp, said the neighbors' dispute has nothing to do with the Salvation Army and its mission. "It's the misuse of this small acreage of land. It's in a residential area," Felderman said. John Sterner, who has lived on Thunderhead Falls Road since 1974, said the land's donors, Albert and Vera Eklund, wanted the camp to offer a rustic, primitive experience for kids. Cabins with bathrooms don't fit that ideal. "It's supposed to be a camp. What they're failing to understand is a camp teaches people how to be safe, teaches kids how to adapt," Sterner said. "You have to learn how to overcome adversity. A primitive campground does that well." Maj. Robert McClintock, who lives on the campground with his wife, disagrees and said their first priority is to make the camping experience safer for the kids. "I really believe if Albert Eklund were alive today, he'd be in full agreement with how the camp has evolved," McClintock said. "You still have the natural experience with the tress and the streams and the animals and the bugs and the birds. It's still the camping experience that Albert was after." Kirkeby said he can appreciate opponents' views but said an improved Salvation Army camp won't hurt the picturesque area. "That area is breathtaking. It's beautiful," Kirkeby said. "We certainly are so privileged and honored to have a small portion of that. No one wants to destroy that." To address neighbors' concerns, The Salvation Army agreed to some concessions, including: y Total overnight campers will be capped at 100 at a time. y All new cabins will be limited to one story. y All new structures will be built at least 45 feet from the property's west ridgeline. The property was zoned low-density residential, with the pre-existing camp use protected, county planning director Dan Jennissen said. To expand, though, the camp needed land use reclassified as a planned unit development. They were able to build the McClintocks' residence because it fit the residential zoning. "With a legal non-conforming use, you hope eventually they go away," Jennissen said. "With the approval of the PUD, it's still possible it will go away, but it's less likely." McClintock said that is exactly why they're glad to have the zoning issues behind them. "We're just anxious to be past it," McClintock said. "It's been a long, hard fight." Construction will be in three phases, with projects beginning as funding allows, Kirkeby said. Both Sterner and Felderman are skeptical that The Salvation Army will work with neighbors but hope the camp will stay true to Eklund's vision. "If The Salvation Army does what they say they'll do, I don't really have a whole lot of problems," Sterner said, adding, "They still have to be careful and keep it primitive." Contact Emilie Rusch at 394-8453 or emilie.ruschrapidcityjournal.com The opinions above are from readers of rapidcityjournal.com and in no way represent the views of the Rapid City Journal or Lee Enterprises.

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