Burrows at street (copy)

John Burrows stands at the edge of his Longview Avenue yard in Hinsdale. Burrows and other neighbors say they are concerned not only about traffic from a proposed RV park in the current Camp Emerson grounds, but about water quality in the region. 

HINSDALE — For half a century, the Lein family has hosted young campers six weeks a year on a Hinsdale hillside. A proposed buyer of the property also wants to run a campground — but with as many as 317 parked recreational vehicles, for six months a year.

From a zoning standpoint, is that apples to apples — or apples and oranges?

Two weeks after hearing the buyer’s pitch, Hinsdale officials say they think it’s the latter, signaling in a Friday letter that the property’s current use as Camp Emerson may not provide any easy path to approval.

In Round 1, Hinsdale officials quiz RV park proponents

Northgate Resort Ventures LLC has a deal to buy the 155-acre site, if it wins town approval. The company operates nearly two dozen similar parks, most under the brand name Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park, in 13 states.

In a presentation to officials July 28, representatives of the company said, as they did in a special permit application to the Planning Board, that they believe their proposed RV park is allowable as a continued use. The company’s June 16 application says it seeks “to expand the property as a campground in the R5 district.”

However, the chairman of the Select Board informed the company Friday that its application is incomplete because it did not, in the town’s view, properly identify which section of zoning bylaws would allow such a use. And, he said, it may need to be vetted by a different board.

“Your current application lacks this level of detail and clarity needed to determine which municipal board is the proper permit granting authority,” Richard B. Scialabba wrote in a letter to Chelsea Bossenbroek, Northgate’s general counsel and a member of the family that owns the firm.

Scialabba said the town believes, “based on the limited information available,” that the company needs to seek approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

At the presentation last month, held in the Nessacus Regional Middle School auditorium, that board’s chairman, Jeffrey Viner, said he thought the ZBA needed to consider the proposal.

What’s more, Viner expressed reservations about the project, saying that an RV park would not be allowed in an R5 zoning district. “We try to stay with our guidelines,” Viner said at the time. “Can we really say it’s not detrimental to the neighborhood? … I would need some convincing that you’re not detrimental to the neighborhood.”

Some neighbors of the 212 Longview Ave. campground already believe that additional traffic on the street, a hilly route west of Route 8, would indeed be detrimental. A traffic study commissioned by Northgate said the campground would add one vehicle trip per minute on Friday nights. Residents have said they fear area roads would be overwhelmed and pedestrians and bicyclists left vulnerable.

Because of questions raised in Scialabba’s letter, the project has been removed from the Planning Board’s agenda for Monday. That session was to be the first at which residents can voice their opinions.

Lein family comments

The camp was founded in the late 1960s by Marvin and Adeline Lein and is run by their daughter, Sue, under the business name Camp Tanglelake LLC.

In a statement released through Northgate, Sue Lein said on behalf of her family that she has been in talks with Northgate for six months, developing a personal relationship with its owners and setting expectations for the future of the property. She has not responded to repeated requests from The Eagle for comment on the sale.

Lein said she believes Northgate will do right by Hinsdale and questioned objections raised by some neighbors. The statement was released before the Friday letter from the town.

“First and foremost among those expectations is that Northgate and their family campground operation will be a positive contribution to the town of Hinsdale and Berkshire County,” Lein said.

“Northgate sees the value in building on our legacy and relationships,” Lein said. “We look forward to receiving the continued support of the community leadership and our fellow community members, as we continue the process of evaluating and addressing all concerns brought forth during the scheduled planning meetings.”

In that same statement last week, Northgate addressed how it would use the current camp’s small property on nearby Plunkett Lake, an issue flagged by officials at the July 28 session. The company said it would not expand upon the scale of Camp Emerson’s activities at the lakefront parcel.

Northgate said it would be a good steward of the land. “We know we can not only maintain the excellent precedent of environmental stewardship and recreational opportunities currently showcased at Camp Emerson, but with the continued support of the current owners and the community in which it has been based for so many decades, we can truly take it to the next level,” the company said in its statement. “Our goal with any development is to enhance the existing property and responsibly maintain its environmental and geographical assets, including the peaceful and harmonious natural ambience of the town.”

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Investigations editor

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.