Local residents cannot help but notice the activity on the prairie at the corner of Steamboat Island and Sexton roads. In recent weeks, grading has commenced on a 5.2 acre parcel owned by STAC Properties, LLC (Drake Nicholson and Desiree Forbes). A number of inquiries have been received by members of the Griffin Neighborhood Association as to what’s up. We can now report that Mr. Nicholson is indeed moving ahead with construction on a pair of buildings totaling 43,020 square feet to house a “members’ only” facility with indoor tennis courts, a salon with massage, manicure/pedicure, sauna and tanning facilities, a weight room, racquetball court, climbing wall, hot tub, and a small swimming pool.
Meet the new neighbor. Except for the Griffin School, nothing as big as this structure exists in our area. Beyond the footprint on the ground, too, the height required to accommodate tennis courts may put this among the highest structures.
Mr. Nicholson purchased the parcel in April, 2003 and made application in mid-2004 to build the Steamboat Island Tennis Club. The original application required a Special Use Permit (the parcel is zoned for rural residential use) for the construction of a 43,200 square foot building “for indoor tennis and other associated athletic uses such as a weight room, locker room and swimming pool. In addition,” according to that original application, “the facility includes two outdoor tennis and 151 parking stalls.” Copies of the original application materials are available on the web site of the Griffin Neighborhood Association.
Long before grading equipment set to work on one of the last undeveloped portions of prairie in our area, voices had been raised against the project. Some objected to the development as a “huge, urban and high density athletic facility.” One local resident, Steve Lundin, filed a formal appeal against approval of the application. In a letter to the County’s Permit Assistance Center, Mr. Lundin wrote the project “(1) Violates the county zoning code; (2) is incompatible with the County Comprehensive Plan and the State’s Growth Management Act; and (3) will have substantial and undue adverse impacts on the Griffin community.”
Other residents welcomed the possibility there might be built an athletic facility closer to home.
While the Board of the Griffin Neighborhood Association did not take a position either in favor of or against the project, they did note a number of inconsistencies in the plans and wrote in a memo to Association members that “confusion exists about the project details.” Early in the planning stages, Mr. Nicholson had approached the Board to describe what he had in mind. However, many on the Board at the time reported the plans discussed appeared to be so fluid as to be impossible to say exactly what it was Mr. Nicholson was actually going to build. Some expressed concerns over the long-term viability of the business being proposed for such large buildings.
In May, 2006, the County’s Hearing Examiner upheld the decision to approve the Special Use Permit and denied Mr. Lundin’s appeal against the County’s approval of the project. Although zoned Rural Residential, as is much of the land on our peninsula, the Hearing Examiner allowed to go forward plans to construct what he described as two buildings “proposed to be 35 feet in height.”
The Comprehensive Plan requires development to remain rural in character and to balance human uses with the natural environment, and it requires commercial uses to be small in scale for provision of convenience services to the surrounding rural neighborhood.
Following the Hearing Examiner’s decision, an appeal was filed with the County Commissioners. The size regulations for athletic facilities in the county were not in place at the time of the original application. Commissioner MacLeod abstained from voting “due to his concerns about the special use application and whether or not it was properly vested under the rules relied upon by the Hearing Examiner.” However, the two remaining Commissioners, Cathy Wolfe and Diane Oberquell, upheld the Hearing Examiner’s decision.
That’s where things ended back in July, 2006.
In October, 2009, Mr. Nicholson filed an amended application. This time the facility included a pro shop and a “café/deli.”
In the intervening years, little the public would be aware of appears to have been done with the parcel. That is, until a few weeks ago. That’s when the grading began. We now have received from the County a packet of materials with the latest site plans. The pro shop and café/deli are out. The County’s Amended Administrative Site Plan Review includes a copy of correspondence from the Public Works Department, dated this last March, and a memo from the Environmental Health Department, in April. A blank Administrative Appeal Application Form was also included.
The County is recommending approval of the permit and for the project to proceed. A nonrefundable fee of $1710 would be required to appeal the decision. Such an appeal would need to be filed by June 15.
Click here to peruse our archive of documents related to the Steamboat Island Athletic Club.
Watch this space for more information, as it becomes available.