GALVESTON — As soon as this fall, a new recreational vehicle campsite could be built on the West End. With space for 239 vehicles, the park would be more than twice the size of any RV park on the island.
Plans for the park have been in the works for nearly a year, says the park’s developer, Rusty Walla. Approval from city leaders has for months been delayed in various boards and commissions.
Walla’s plan would develop 21 acres about 2 miles east of the San Luis Pass on the north side of San Luis Pass Road.
The plans for the park have drawn heavy criticism from residents of the Miramar Beach subdivision, a group of luxury homes just across the street.
The homeowner’s objections led to an unusual scene during the March 27 City Council meeting when homeowners were sworn in to give testimony before the council. The council had been asked, through a rarely used appeals process, to reverse a February vote by the planning commission to approve Walla’s general land use plan.
Walla admits that his plans changed last year. For many years he had intended to build a housing subdivision on the 38-acre property, going so far as to have plats approved for individual sale.
“Originally, it was designed for a subdivision, and that was pre-Ike stuff,” Walla said. He said after owning the land for 12 or 13 years, it became too difficult to sell dry-land lots for development. “You couldn’t make any money doing that because there’s a ton of them for sale.”
Galveston’s complex zoning rules limit the construction of RV parks to one type of land category, known as a planned development zone. Walla’s land is zoned to that category.
The city’s planning department concluded that Walla’s plans met the city’s guidelines.
Neighbors took a different view, however, claiming in public hearings and in letters to the planning department that an RV park would harm the character of the West End. They expressed concern that visitors to the RV park would trespass on their properties to get to the beach.
“It appears from the site plan that the ‘shortest route’ to the beach from all of these RV lots is directly (through) the single family houses that line the beach across the highway,” wrote Allan Nutt, one of the Miramar Beach homeowners. “They will simply walk across the street and filter (through) the privately owned house and yards.”
Appraisal district records show that most of the neighbors who filed letters of appeal to the city have home addresses outside of Galveston.
“For most of the people on Miramar, our homes are second homes, investments or places we hope to retire,” wrote Georgiana Nelsen.
The criticisms were heard by planning commissioners during a meeting in February. However, the commission approved Walla’s plan with conditions that the developer have signs on his property directing pedestrians to official beach access points on the east and west ends of his property and that he construct a 4-foot berm.
At the meeting, planning officials told commissioners that because Walla’s plans were for an approved use they could not be denied.
The planning department did admit that errors were made during the notification process to neighbors, which resulted in three separate notifications being sent before all of the homeowners within 200 feet of the RV park were notified.
Frustrated by delays
Walla expressed frustration over the five-month process to gain approval from the city. He was also critical of District 6 Councilwoman Marie Robb, who publicly opposed the plan.
Robb’s opposition to the project continued through the City Council’s final decision on the appeal. In that meeting, Robb proposed design changes to Walla’s RV park, including moving a central driveway to different spot on the site and building an eight-foot berm to block views into the RV Park from the street.
The City Council did not agree with Robb’s changes and ultimately denied the neighbors’ appeal.
“Houses surrounding this plat were sold with the understanding that (land) would be single family residential development,” Robb said during the March 27 council meeting. “This is a misrepresentation.”
Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or email@example.com.