The approval of a 25-acre wakeboard water park in rural York County appears to have followed proper procedure under the guidelines for a rural development district (RUD) in county zoning codes. But this is a significant project with the potential to disrupt the rural character the RUD designation is designed to protect, and more opportunity for public discussion would have been appropriate.
Perhaps, as County Council member Christi Cox suggests, the county needs to review the RUD designation and determine whether a broad allowance for “outdoor recreation facilities” in the code should be re-examined.
The site of the water park not only is in Cox’ district. It also is located on Rambo Road, where she has a home.
Cox objected to the approval of the project last week, saying the council had been given no specific information about the water park and the public had not been able to comment on it.
She said she wanted to strike outdoor recreation as a permitted use in RUD areas because other groups might launch similar projects that are inconsistent with the surrounding landscape.
“We may be too far gone for my district, but I want to help others,” she told fellow council members.
But the developers went through the proper procedures required by the county. The site plan was reviewed by the county’s administrative staff to ensure that it met all the requirements under the zoning code.
And that, essentially, was it. While the RUD designation lists such developments as horse stables, campgrounds, churches, schools, community centers; family day care and nursing homes as appropriate uses for land in such districts, “outdoor recreation facilities” also are listed.
County officials may have been envisioning baseball diamonds, not large water parks, when they included outdoor recreation. But that is a good reason to revisit the zoning codes and tweak the RUD designation.
We share the desire to protect the rural character that makes up much of York County. When a project threatens to significantly increase traffic, put wear and tear on existing roads and stress the water infrastructure, county officials need to take that into account when reviewing the application.
However, a large stretch of rural property probably is the only site where a water park could be located. And the park could be a popular addition to the county’s recreational options.
But Cox is right, a project of this size in a rural district raises red flags. The county needs to be prepared to inform council members and solicit public input before the next such project comes up for consideration.