More than 50 people attended a public meeting at St. John’s City Hall to discuss an application to develop a park and campground on Blackhead Road. — Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram
The proponents of a controversial park and campground development opposed by many residents of the Blackhead area of St. John’s say their intention is to simply operate a business that emphasizes family over wild partying.
“We just thought of it as an open opportunity to develop a place that is super family friendly and most importantly ... to have an environment where the party atmosphere isn’t (welcome),” said Bob Smith.
Smith and Dave Francis are the minds behind the proposed park and campground, which would include 38 spaces for RVs and 143 for tents and small trailers. It would also feature a multi-purpose building, a greenhouse, a small barn with animals, and circular tents known as ‘yurts’ built with steel and wood.
The two men, both of whom live in Shea Heights, have owned the 21 acres of land for the last three years. Francis and Smith have always enjoyed camping, but they wanted to try and create a private park and campground that would encourage families to come with their kids in tow.
“We want to be not only like Pippy Park (in St. John’s), we want to be double the amount of focus on family orientation and family environment,” said Smith, speaking alongside Francis on their land bordering Long Pond. “We are not a park that would tolerate any type of belligerent behaviour. We’ve got park rangers that are going to be going around here.”
Such points were made by Matthew Mills of Tract Consulting during a presentation last Tuesday at a public meeting in St. John’s City Hall. He prepared a land use assessment report for the city on behalf of Francis and Smith as part of their discretionary use application for the proposed development.
However, talk of a family focus did not ease the concerns of many area residents who spoke at the public meeting on Tuesday. They expressed concerns about the prospect of noise coming from the park and campground. Some said they chose to live in the area because of its tranquility.
The issue of increased traffic to and from the area was also raised. Blackhead Road serves as the only road leading to a popular tourist attraction — the Cape Spear National Historic Site. Approximately 50 people attended the meeting, and most of them clapped after each person voiced their concerns about the proposed development
Asked whether they anticipated such a reaction from local residents, Francis said Tract Consulting did a great job presenting their proposal.
“People have got issues everywhere,” said Francis. “Hopefully (consultant Mills) covered all the concerns and issues of the people that had concerns and issues.”
He noted it is hard to hear much noise on the proposed site for the park and campground beyond vehicles passing through the area on Blackhead Road. A vegetated buffer of 80-125 metres will separate campsites from the backyards of residential properties along Blackhead Road. Smith added the campground will not have generators on-site.
As for traffic, Francis said most campers will travel directly to the campground and stay there. “They’re not even going into Blackhead, per se,” he said.
Smith said open fires will not be permitted at the campground, and staff will keep a close eye on the provincial fire index.
As a private park, Smith said, the operators will have the right to refuse service to people who they expect will not benefit the site’s atmosphere. It also plans to have a ban on the public consumption of alcohol.
“We will not tolerate the open consumption of alcohol throughout the park,” said Francis. “If you want to sit down with your family, we’re not saying you can’t have a drink with your family in your camper. We’re not saying you can’t have a drink with your family by the fireplace in the evening time.”
Smith adds that the park will crack down on public drunkenness. He also expects its existence will deter people from loitering at night at the local beach, contrary to what at least one resident suggested at last Tuesday’s meeting.
Smith said the park will also be well-suited to accommodating hikers on the East Coast Trail looking for a place to camp before continuing on their journey.
The park and campground would operate year-round if approved, and Smith plans to live on-site.
The discretionary use application pertaining to the proposed development is due to come back to St. John’s city council, Smith expects, at the July 8 council