PINETOP-LAKESIDE — The last agenda item on the Jan. 7 council agenda was a recommendation by Planning and Zoning for the council to consider a zone change for Camp Grace from Open Space/Park Zoning (OS) to Commercial Recreational (C-R) for the purpose of expanding the services of the camp. Council unanimously approved the zone change.
White Mountain Development and The Brimhall Family Foundation made an application on Nov. 9, 2020 for the zone change. A public hearing was held before planning and zoning on Dec. 10, 2020 and after hearing directly from applicant Jennifer Brimhall, along with much discussion regarding the possible impact of the zone change, commissioners voted 6 – 1 in favor of the change.
According to Brimhall, Camp Grace was first established in 1940 by the Latter-day Saints (LDS) Church and later by Mission of Grace and operated as a camp. As part of the 2018 Camp Tatiyee and U.S. Forest Service Land Exchange — which took nearly 20 years to complete — Camp Grace was grandfathered in and allowed to keep its designation because there was no change in how it had operated under its lease with the Forest Service.
After becoming private property, Camp Grace was among the parcels to be divided and sold to developers. Desiring to save the camp, The Brimhall Foundation purchased the property with the intent to continue its use as a kid’s camp, but the OS zoning they thought they had was actually discovered to be incorrect by the town and was changed to Residential Low (R-Low).
Following a petition for referendum last year regarding the re-zoning of 25.5 acres of land which was part of the land acquired in the CampTatiyee/Forest Service Land Exchange, Community Development Director Cody Blake explained to council during a recent public hearing for a Camp Tatiyee rezoning request, that the town had done research and discovered an error.
Since the town’s incorporation in 1984, Forest Service land was not given a zoning designation by the county as is required under town code. Anything coming into the town limits is to get an R-Low zoning. The town found a 1986 map showing that R-Low was designated, but for some reason in 2002 they zoned all of the Forest Service property as OS. Both town code and state law state that in order for any property to be zoned OS, there must be a request from the property owner to do so. There was no such request when the Forest Service property exchanged hands to private property in 2018.
The town requested a legal opinion from the town attorney on the zoning and it was the attorney’s opinion that “the property is R-Low until the property owners give permission to change the zoning.”
With this new information, The Brimhall Foundation formally requested Camp Grace be designated OS. Later, due to COVID-19 restrictions which prevent the camp from operating the way they have previously, they conferred with the town to find a solution — thus the request for the C-R zoning.
In the Dec. 10, 2020 planning and zoning hearing, commissioners raised concerns over the possibility of the camp being sold in the future to some other type of entity allowed under the C-R zoning and it becoming an issue for that location.
Brimhall assured commissioners at that time that the camp was requesting the C-R zoning rather than another zoning designation because there is no specific code that addresses a kid’s camp. She also made it clear that she did not want the camp property to be used for anything else.
Blake piggy-backed on Brimhall’s comments to the commissioners stating that if an allowed commercial business (C-R) were to go into the Camp Grace property, the town maintains certain controls such as a site plan and other town requirements.
Blake further emphasized that action on the Brimhall’s request is a time issue in that the camp needs to start building immediately in order for camps to take place in 2021.
Brimhall said the camp is 2,800 square feet and with COVID restrictions she cannot sleep 26 kids in her current space nor feed 75 in that space. She said the fire marshal says she can sleep 230 but COVID restrictions only allow 75. In order for the camp to break even, she said they have to have 100 kids. With the commercial loan she needs for the expansion, if her zoning were to go to R-1, the loan would be called within 24 hours.
Following the approval of the zone change by council, Brimhall offered an email response to t he Independent regarding the approval:
“We are so grateful for the support of the townspeople, Cody Blake, Keith Johnson, Mayor Irwin, and the town council in approving the rezone for Camp Grace. This will give us an opportunity to expand our efforts and fulfill our vision of providing creative and active outlets for the youth of the White Mountains during the year, and leadership and performance camps in the summer. For the upcoming year, we will fully renovate the property to ensure compliance with the safety recommendations for COVID-19.”
Brimhall also said they will be building new sleeping quarters, tree houses, tee pees and a new mess hall and multipurpose room. They will re-configure existing buildings to include an art and craft studio, recording studio and green room, library, and music performance/band room and updating our outdoor recreation areas to include some fun state of the art equipment and performance training obstacles for the community.