By Marty Finley
The Richmond City Commission voted Tuesday at its regular meeting to withdraw a lease that would allow a private company, Lakeview RV Park LLC, to build a recreational vehicle park on the Camp Catalpa property, a 15-acre wooded park on the perimeter of Lake Reba, in Richmond. The vote came after the “Save Camp Catalpa” group-which has been leading the public outcry against the decision-donned green shirts and made its presence felt in the city commission’s chambers. “Save Camp Catalpa” planned the City Hall gathering at the group’s first official meeting last Thursday at the Central Bank off Main Street in downtown Richmond.
Beverly and Edna Wickersham, a couple who has lived near the camp for many years, started “Save Camp Catalpa”, and the initial effort involved passing out buttons, signs and posters to people to spread the word and gather support. But the group grew into a sizable unit last week to include support from neighborhood associations, the Richmond Disc Golf Club and Eastern students.
The Wickershams were able to get clearance from the Student Government Association last week to place posters on school bulletin boards, and recruited students to pass out literature on the issue at the Powell building throughout the week, Beverly Wickersham said.
The group planned to only make an appearance at the meeting, but the City Commission gave Beverly Wickersham a few minutes to speak his mind. He said he asked the Commission to rescind the lease, as well as to remove the recent recommendation to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a zone change to the near-500 acre Lake Reba property, which would move the property from a residential zone to a public zone.
After hearing Wickersham’s arguments, the commission discussed the idea of withdrawing the lease and decided to bring it to a vote, said Commissioner Kay Jones.
Commissioner Bill Strong provided the motion and the commission voted unanimously to ask the developer to withraw the release.
Jones told The Eastern Progress in an interview earlier this week that she was originally opposed to the idea of the RV park, but was swayed when she realized the city was not giving away anything. She said the area is dark and secluded and not safe for residents late at night, which concerns her.
She also said she believed Camp Catalpa was underutilized, but after checking their records, found the park had been used over 60 times in a 52-week period with more than 3,000 people taking advantage of the park.
She said she had heard from many campers in Richmond who were excited about the possibility of an RV park, but after attending the meeting, realized the overwhelming majority were “mad as hell” that something could happen to Camp Catalpa.
“We are all in agreement that we had our cart before our horse,” Jones said.
Jones and Commissioner Robert Blythe both said there was no ill will involved with the deal, and said if they offended anyone, it was unintentional.
“Sometimes we step on toes and get ourselves into hot water without knowing it,” Jones said.
The Wickershams said they would still be moving forward to make sure the lease is rescinded, which included a visit to the Planning and Zoning Commission to present their case Wednesday night. Beverly Wickersham said if the developer refuses to withdraw the release, it would leave Camp Catalpa in its original predicament.
Jones said they have a clause within the lease that states the city can opt out of the lease with a 30-day notice given to the developer, but that only applies if the city feels the developer’s work is unsatisfactory. As it stands, the city is legally binded to the lease, Jones said.
City Manager David Evans said Wednesday that the city is in discussion with the developers of the RV park, but nothing had been settled at press time.