The Hinsdale RV project sparks debate: what is summer camp or what isn’t it? | Central Berkshires


HINSDALE – Five months after surfacing, a proposal to build a motorhome camping destination in Hinsdale is back, as supporters once again make their pitch to a different city council.

Northgate Resort Ventures LLC is applying for a special permit from the Zoning Appeal Board to transform historic Camp Emerson into one of its nationwide portfolio of camping destinations, capable of accommodating 317 campsites.

“We’re starting over,” ZBA president Jeff Viner said Tuesday as the special permit hearing began in the auditorium of Nessacus Regional Middle School. “We’re here to gather information tonight from the public, from Northgate… to make an informed decision on this project.”

After three hours of presentations, council voted to suspend public comments and continue the hearing until 6:30 p.m. on December 14.

50 motorhomes, perhaps;  no more than 300, say Hinsdale's neighbors.

The battle for Longview Avenue is joined with Hinsdale: Will a national company win a permit for a “Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park” RV campground? Or will the neighbors’ objections prevail?

Amid discussions about storm sewers, catch basins, water circulation and pressure, supporters and opponents argued over a definition that could prove to be crucial: what makes a camp summer a summer camp?

Local Northgate lawyer Jeffrey Scrimo of Lenox said city regulations allow commercial summer camps – and that’s the kind of business Northgate is looking to pursue.

Nothing in Hinsdale’s bylaws, Scrimo said, prohibits what the company seeks to do on the Camp Emerson grounds at 212 Longview Ave.

“This is a well-contained campground, where these RVs come and go in the short term,” Scrimo said. “This is not Cousin Eddie’s roadside campsite.”

A series of townspeople, stepping onto the podium later, said no one would mistake what Northgate is offering for a summer camp. And neither should the ZBA, they suggested.

“They can’t really pretend they’re a summer camp,” said Eric M. Goidel of 40 Rose Drive. “You have a three-season operation that wants to be called a summer camp. “






HinsdaleZBAboard.jpg

Members of the Hinsdale Zoning Appeal Board heard a representative from Northgate Resort Ventures LLC on Tuesday talk about traffic management in the Camp Emerson area.




Duane F. Bruce, of 55 South Shore Road, questioned what he said appeared to be Northgate’s attempt to mix up the use of the terms “commercial campground” and “commercial summer camp”.

“I would like to submit that these terms are not synonymous,” Bruce said.

As other residents worried about traffic jams and the possible overuse of Plunkett Lake, a longtime summer camp owner joined those who questioned Northgate’s efforts to present themselves as a “commercial summer camp”.

Jeff Saltz, owner of Camp Romaca in Hinsdale since 1995, said that in his opinion Northgate’s plan was nothing like a summer camp as it is generally defined.

“I take issue with the idea that the RV park is a summer camp,” Saltz said via a video connection. “It’s impossible to say objectively that a RV park and a summer camp are the same thing. They operate under a completely different set of regulations. There are critical differences.






HinsdaleZBASaltz.jpg

Jeff Saltz, owner of Camp Romaca in Hinsdale, has spoken out against granting Northgate Resort Ventures LLC a special permit to turn Camp Emerson into a site that can accommodate 317 campers in RVs.




“There is no such thing as a quick, loose game with the English language,” Saltz said. “There is no camp director on Earth who would call a RV park a summer camp. “

Fred Wang, a part-time resident, said the city’s bylaws have worked to preserve Hinsdale’s rural qualities. “Your statutes have been successful in protecting this for 40 years,” Wang said. “This is what will keep this beautiful city going.

He, too, rejected the idea that Northgate would operate a summer camp, as is generally understood. And he noted that when the state handed out COVID-19 relief grants to “summer camps,” the 14 beneficiaries in Berkshire County were children’s programs. “There are no RV camps or campgrounds that have received funding for summer camps,” Wang said.






HinsdaleZBAchelsea.jpg

Chelsea Bossenbroek, general counsel for Northgate Resort Ventures LLC, and a family member who owns the business, told listeners during the ZBA’s special permit hearing that visitors to the proposed RV park would be more likely to use the site’s amenities, rather than visiting Lake Plunkett. She spoke via video link after a resident asked how Northgate would regulate the use of the small beach that would come with its purchase of Camp Emerson.

Chelsea says people are more likely to use the site’s amenities.




Scrimo, Northgate’s attorney, rebutted challenges to his argument that the draft fits the statutes reference to ‘commercial summer camp’. He noted the “eloquent” arguments of opponents of the project, but said it was legal, legally, to use a common definition of “camp”.

The drafters of the Hinsdale bylaws could have made it clear that they only intended to approve the use of children’s camps, he said, but they did not.

“Commercial summer camp – that’s a broad term,” Scrimo said.

In two hours of public commentary, only one resident came out in favor of the RV park, although many wrote letters supporting the project. Resident perspectives are included, along with project documents, on a special page of the city’s website.

Linda Yarmey of River Street said she worked as a facilities manager at Camp Emerson and believes Northgate will become a good corporate citizen in Hinsdale. “Northgate is going to be a big blow to this city,” she said.

Northgate Field

Brent White, of White Engineering in Pittsfield, took the podium to recap the plan for the project to make the entrance to the Longview Avenue camp safer by moving it south, closer to the ridge of a hill. A traffic expert hired by Northgate, Robert Michaud, also described the changes he said would improve travel safety.

Over a Zoom connection, Michaud took people into the auditorium and the audience online, through studies he said showed the Northgate project would not overwhelm traffic in the area. “You would see a vehicle every two or three minutes, that’s a very modest number,” Michaud said of an intersection.

“This is not a project that will introduce a lot of delay,” he said.

Wang, who lives near Plunkett Lake and enjoys walking the area, said the Northgate app does not address pedestrian safety concerns.

“Does anyone have to be killed or maimed before pedestrian safety becomes a concern? ” He asked. “If they were really that concerned about pedestrian safety, where is the crosswalk? “

A representative for Northgate retorted that Longview Avenue has no sidewalks to connect. “It would not be appropriate to provide pedestrian crossings for anything,” he said.


Comments are closed.