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Community pushes back against Townsend camping resort proposal, deferred to June meeting

The Townsend Planning Commission was expected to vote on rezoning Thursday that would pave the way for a new camping resort.

TOWNSEND, Tenn. — Some people in Townsend are pushing back against new city development plans. The planning commission was expected to vote on rezoning the proposed location Thursday night. That would pave the way for a new camping resort to break ground.

The vote was deferred to June after the developer asked for the commission to delay the vote.

The company, Yonder Hospitality, wants to build 130 modern cabins. The plans include 36 parking spots, a movie theater, a dining area and a pool with hot tubs.

People who live in the area started a petition to stop the development. So far, more than 1,000 people have signed it. 

"I can't stress it enough that wholesale development would not benefit our community in any way," said Bill Myers, a Townsend resident. "I feel there will be quite a bit of socioeconomic displacement because of the rural populations here. People struggle nowadays to make a living so when you add the cost of tourist pressures and the land taxes will go up."

Yonder Hospitality first presented plans at a Planning Commission meeting in April.  

"I think the development itself looks nice, but there are just a lot of tiny homes in spots so that's the concern," said Amy Conroy of Townsend. 

Yonder wants to build a luxury campground similar to its Utah location. Some neighbors said their top concerns are traffic, noise and wildlife loss. 

"We have bears that cross our property last summer every day," Conroy said. 

"On this property alone, there's a mother bear and three cubs. She raises her children here every year," Myers said. 

Myers said Townsend, also known as the peaceful side of the Smokies, needs to stay that way. 

"We want you to come here and sit down, relax, go fishing, go swimming, unwind, hike," he said. "We just need to preserve areas like this. There's enough Gatlinburg. There's enough Pigeon Forge in the world. Those are wonderful places to go visit. I can't say enough about them but they have their place and this, unfortunately for them, is not their place."

According to property data from Tennessee's Comptroller of the Treasury, a company called, "No Vacancy LLC" owns the three separate properties Yonder is considering for the camping development. The largest is a 27.6-acre lot which is already designated for commercial business. It's located off Lamar Alexander Parkway. 

"This is our house and we should not allow outsiders and other people to come in here and destroy the beauty that's our town," Myers said. 

In documents provided by Yonder, the company says it strives to complement the existing business environment, be a steward in the community, and ultimately be a great neighbor. 

Townsend Mayor Don Prater says he was confident Thursday night's discussion and community engagement would help the planning commissioners and city council make the right decision.

"With respect to tonight’s City of Townsend Planning Commission, we have a lot of community interest in a new proposed resort within the city limits and an associated request for re-zoning some residential parcels to be included in the development," Prater said. "While the development contains a number of innovative concepts, we are fortunate to have significant engagement by city residents and folks in the greater Tuckaleechee Cove community."

Mayor Prater said he and his team started publishing draft agendas for our Planning Commission and City Council meetings last year and that this increased transparency has sparked an uptick in our meeting attendance and community engagement.

"This participation is valued and welcomed by the city," he said. "We recognize the pace of change has quickened in recent years. In fact, we are in the process of updating our Community Plan to reflect our desire to maintain Townsend as the 'Peaceful Side of the Smokies' while continuing to provide a high quality of life for our residents and opportunities to grow in ways that are consistent with our values and unique character."

According to city officials, the developer requested a deferral to the commissions' June meeting. They said more than 100 residents showed up on Thursday to address the commissioners and voice their opposition.

No action was taken by the Planning Commission on Thursday. Townsend Mayor Don Prater said that people who wanted to speak filled the auditorium and spilled out into the lobby. He said they took comments and answered questions for around an hour and 40 minutes before continuing with the regular agenda.

He said they may look for a bigger venue for the next meeting if the proposal is on the agenda.

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