Out of the frying pan, into the fire?

There is great jubilation in New York’s Catskills region this week, on the news that KOA is walking away from a proposed 75-site glamping resort that faced growing local opposition. (See past posts here and here.) News of the unexpected about-face came in a terse three-sentence letter, dated Feb. 8, announcing that the company “has formally withdrawn its special use permit, site plan and subdivision applications.”

Signed by Jenny McCullough, senior director of marketing and operations for Terramor Outdoor Resort, the letter was received by the Saugerties planning board two weeks ahead of a meeting at which KOA was expected to respond to numerous concerns raised by area residents. “After careful evaluation, it was determined that the project did not meet criteria across several benchmarks to warrant moving forward,” McCullough wrote, without further elaboration. In response to subsequent emailed queries, McCullough gave assurances that the company has “no intention to resubmit at a later date,” but also confirmed that KOA still owns the 77-acre site and is “discussing our options internally” on how to proceed.

Planning board chairman Howard Post, meanwhile, responded to local residents by saying the board has “no idea” what KOA will do next. “Nothing to stop them from resubmitting,” he wrote. “They might sell . . . they gave no indication nor do they have to.”

But as it turns out, KOA/Terramor has bigger fish to fry—or bigger headaches with which to contend. Because even as it was plunging into the Catskills morass, it simultaneously was looking to develop a far larger and more ambitious project in the foothills of the High Sierra, just outside Yosemite National Park. Much more ambitious. According to the preapplication proposal it filed in December of 2021 with the Mariposa County Planning Board, KOA wants to build two resorts on a 993-acre property that straddles State Highway 140, a major access route for the park. The broad strokes include:

  • A KOA Resort would be located on 90 acres south of the highway, to include 400 full hook-up RV sites and 25 to 50 tent sites with water connections. A 10,000-square-feet building would house a check-in desk, restaurant, store, laundry, a meeting space and employee office space. Also located on the grounds would be a swimming pool and bathhouse, two playgrounds and “select employee housing.”
  • A Terramor Outdoor Resort would be built on 80 acres on the north side of the highway and would include 80 to 90 “conditioned glamping units,” also described as “tents [that] will incorporate standard amenities of a luxury hotel room including a full bathroom, electrical supply and climate control.” An 8,000-square-foot lodge would include a restaurant, meeting space and indoor pool, while other amenities would include a 2,000-square-foot open-air pavilion and a 1,500-square-foot wellness/spa center. As with its neighboring resort, the Terramor property also would include “select employee housing.”
  • The two resorts would have a combined 100 employees and would expect to have 800 guests a day at the KOA resort and 200 a day at Terramor. The two facilities would have a total of 525 on-site parking spaces and would consume up to 51,000 gallons of water a day.

A preapplication is by definition conceptual and short on details, giving county planners an opportunity to list the specific information they will require in a formal proposal. So perhaps it’s not surprising that when KOA got around to its first public presentation, a “coffee and conversation” meeting in mid-June last summer, the discussion was still vague enough that it “left many members of the community uncertain and unhappy,” according to a report in the Mariposa Gazette. But not to worry: local residents were assured more details would be forthcoming in a meeting later that summer or early fall.

Nature had other ideas. Mere weeks after the kaffeeklatsch, the Oak Fire sprang up literally next door to the Terramor/KOA site and consumed more than 19,000 acres before being wrestled into submission in mid August. (The Oak Fire, it should be noted, occurred less than a mile west of where the even more substantial Ferguson Fire ravaged 97,000 acres in 2018.) Somehow, the fall public presentations never occurred; what did occur was a request from the Mariposa County fire department at a board of supervisors meeting for the county to bite the bullet and start supplementing the virtually all-volunteer fire fighting force with paid staff. Four of the county’s 13 fire stations are unstaffed because of declining volunteer levels, while the only paid fire fighters have been the chief and his deputy.

More recently, nature let loose with a second volley, this time with the torrential rains that battered California for much of January. The resulting floods and erosion were even more pronounced in areas with recent burn scars, such as those left by the Oak Fire, with roads washed away and local residents left stranded for days on end. As icing on the cake, it turns out that Mariposa is the only county in California that does not participate in FEMA’s federal flood insurance program.

KOA has made no public pronouncements about any of these developments, or how they may affect its plans. Nonetheless, it has yet to file a formal proposal with Mariposa County, casting further doubt on its announced plans to have three Terramor resorts up and running by 2025; the only existing Terramor is in Bar Harbor, Maine. Meanwhile, Mariposa residents opposed to KOA’s plans have turned to their Catskills counterparts for organizing pointers—and apparently may expect a shipment of no-longer-needed anti-Terramor lawn signs and posters that are being collected in Saugerties and Woodstock on their behalf.

There is one other ironic footnote to all this: as previously noted, KOA already had a campground in the Saugerties/Woodstock area that it could have repurposed as a Terramor with much less hassle, but which was sold to its glamping rival, Autocamp. KOA also had a franchised campground in Mariposa County, just a mile up the road from its proposed new development—but that too was sold, also to Autocamp. The 98-site Yosemite Airstream glampground had its ribbon-cutting in 2019.

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Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

One thought on “Out of the frying pan, into the fire?”

  1. We don’t need nor want a KOA in our community. It would destroy the small town of Mariposa. It would turn into another downtown Sonora CA with bumper to bumper traffic 24/7


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