Glamp-zombie invades Joshua Tree

Lured ever onward by the siren song of rich returns, the bastard zombie known as “glamping” has reeled from one disastrous proposal to another, often without regard for the land it is trampling or the long-established locals it is shouldering aside. If there is a silver lining to this cloud, it’s the outsized contribution such misplaced proposals have made in bringing communities together, even if it is with pitchforks and torches.

The latest case in point was on display earlier this week in San Bernardino County, which while coping with historic snowfalls and flooding also is contending with a Beverly Hills developer’s proposal for a 75-site glampground in the high desert north of Yucca Valley. Flamingo 640, as the project is known, was first proposed two years ago for an area zoned for “rural living,” which permits single family homes and agriculture—as well as campgrounds and mobile home parks. The RoBott Land Company, no slouch, contends that Flamingo 640 is indeed a campground, regardless of what it looks like to the untutored eye, and that’s how its promoters persisted in describing it throughout a three-hour planning commission hearing Thursday.

But as other glamping proposals have demonstrated, the only tenuous connection such facilities have to “camping” is their use of tents for guest quarters—and that doesn’t mean the kinds of tents people associate with REI or Boy Scout hikes. Flamingo 640’s proposal includes 35 domed tents that are 16 feet in diameter, as well as twenty 850-square-foot “chalets” and twenty “camping lofts,” each encompassing 1,230 square-feet—the size of a small house. But that’s only the beginning: also in the plans are a camp store and reception area, eight restrooms, a 3,000 square-foot swimming pool and patio, two 3,600-square-foot “workshops,” a 5,500-square-foot “art barn,” a 10,000-square-foot restaurant and a 5,500-square-foot “agave bar.”

Then there’s a 2,400-square-foot yoga deck, four fire-pits with surrounding hardscape at 700 square-feet apiece, more than 25,00o square-feet of storage space and, yes, a 7,854-square-foot helipad—because isn’t that a standard campground feature? Combine all that with vaguely defined “gardens” covering 212,000 square-feet, 100 parking spaces and assorted paths and walkways, and you end up, as one local resident at the public hearing observed, with the equivalent of eight football fields’ worth of disturbed desert landscape. Or as another local declaimed, “It’s a bunch of luxury hotel rooms, permanent structures and activities all spread out across the desert.”

Nancy Ferguson of Jericho Systems, which has been designing the project for RoBott, responded weakly by insisting that Flamingo 640 is “a campground that also has resort amenities.” Yet even planning chairman Jonathan Weldy commented that “this sort of feels [like it has] a commercial size” quite out of character with the surrounding area.

Things could be worse: the original proposal also included a 25,000-seat amphitheater and 90-acre music festival area, along with 400 parking spaces. That’s been excised, in a failed effort to mollify local opponents, who instead see such ideas as proof of an outsider’s ignorance of the area’s fragility. Just a 20-minute drive from Joshua Tree National Park, the 640-acre site gets less than six inches of rain a year and is home to desert tortoises and burrowing owls, the former a threatened species, the latter “of special concern” and both vulnerable to soil-scraping development. The site also has hundreds of Joshua trees, which currently are candidates for listing as a threatened species but which the development application blithely claims can be transplanted when they’re in the way.

With the Flamingo 640 proposal percolating for almost two years, local opposition has had ample time to marshal an attack. Spearheading the resistance has been the Homestead Valley Community Council, joined by the Mojave Desert Land Trust, the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental and conservation groups, and which among other things has gathered more than 6,000 signatures on an opposition petition. Council president Justin Merino concluded his remarks by handing the commission “some light reading, if any of you are looking for a good read”—a thick binder crammed with 1,069 pages of pleas to deep-six the whole idea.

As might be expected, objections to Flamingo 640 run the gamut, from fears that traffic on “very dangerous” State Route 247 will become even more hazardous, to anger over further disruption of a rural environment, to resentment over outside financial interests profiting from the despoliation of land for which they have no affinity. But underneath it all bubbles a rage at the continued misrepresentation of such projects as “camping,” with all the back-to-nature overtones that implies. “To call this a ‘campground’ is a gross lie,” complained local resident Cordelia Reynolds. “Glamping is not camping,” and neither is a “destination resort,” which is also how Flamingo 640 has been described by its promoters.

in the end, the planning commission hearing dribbled to an anticlimax: despite repeated requests from chairman Weldy for a resolution from his fellow commissioners, none was forthcoming. In the pained silence that followed, he finally said that absent any motion, the Flamingo 640 application was denied without prejudice. That leaves RoBott Land Company just 10 days to appeal the planning commission’s inaction to the county board of supervisors—but because the application wasn’t actually denied, it also has the option of resubmitting the entire package at some future date.

Given the tenacious refusal of glamping zombies to die, Yucca Valley residents might wish to keep their torches and pitchforks close at hand.

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