The view of Green River game lands zipline customers will see from The Gorge.

Construction underway on The Gorge outpost in Saluda

Published 9:53pm Thursday, January 10, 2013

 

Public hearing for voluntary annexation Jan. 14

Construction began Dec. 1 on the outpost for The Gorge, a new canopy tour venture under development by Sara and Tim Bell of Green River Adventures.

The Bells plan to locate a zipline outpost and parking lot for The Gorge on 1.4 acres located at the end of Honeybee Drive in Saluda, just off Holbert Cove Rd.  The property is adjacent to 10,000 acres of game lands.

“The setting of the outpost is such an incredible view and a unique spot,” said Sara Bell. “Our goal with this entire project is that people participate in this activity and then go downtown to eat dinner or shop.”

One of the next steps along the way is to seek a voluntary annexation.

Citizens of Saluda have an opportunity Monday, Jan. 14 to speak on the possibility of a voluntary annexation of the Bell’s property during a public hearing at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held in the upstairs meeting room of the Saluda Library before the commission’s regular meeting.

Bell said initial plans for the tour include 1,100 vertical feet from top to bottom with eight ziplines, including four that would be more than 1,000 feet in length. She said they also plan to include three sky bridges and two freefall repels. All of the platforms included will have 180-degree views, she added.

Bell said they want to annex the property to allow for beer sales at the location, which cannot currently occur because the property is in unincorporated Polk County. Other businesses such as Saluda Mountain Jamboree, now the Party Place and Events Center, annexed into the city for similar reasons. Giardini Gardens and Trattoria attempted to do so in Columbus in order to sell alcohol but was denied annexation.

“If you were to walk into our business in downtown Saluda you wouldn’t even know we sell beer. We don’t make it a central part of what we do there and we don’t plan to with our canopy tours either,” Bell said.

Bell said they’d also like to host the occasional event at the outpost as well.

Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden said in was in favor of the annexation.

“The business is beneficial to Saluda. While the annexation wouldn’t add a lot of tax revenue to the city it would add some. We’re not receiving any funds now because the property is outside city limits,” Baisden said.

Baisden said he anticipates the business drawing a lot of new people to discover Saluda for the first time.

“They’ve got to come somewhere to eat once they finish the tour – that [location is] close to town here. If somebody brought their kids up here to do [the zipline] but they didn’t want to, they’d have somewhere to go and shop in the meantime,” he said.

No one spoke against the Bell’s expansion plans during a public hearing held Oct. 8, which determined whether or not the city would support assisting as the company sought a Community Development Block Grant. The Bells expect to hear word back about that grant in the next month.

At least one neighbor however has expressed concerns about plans for the business to the Bulletin.

Russell Reese, owner of property at 103 Honeybee Lane, contacted the paper because he said he and other neighbors were not provided notice of a zoning amendment, which the county made to its multiple use zoning in the fall of 2012 to cover industry such as a canopy tour.

Bell said her company worked with the county’s planning department and county commissioners to amend zoning to allow for nature-oriented non-motorized outdoor recreation.

Prior to this change, the county’s multiple-use zones only allowed for recreational facilities such as bowling alleys and skating rinks.

Polk County Zoning Administrator Cathy Ruth said notification to property owners was not required because the change was a text amendment that affected all multiple-use zones in the county and did not actually rezone an area.

Reese, who’s permanent residence is in Florida, said he purchased his property as a vacation home and somewhere to spend his last years of life in what he had hoped would be a quiet area.

“Needless to say we are all going to stand a great loss as far as equity to our properties,” Reese said. “It’s a place that is peaceful and that you would want to keep forever and ever the way it is now.”

Reese said he was also concerned about the ability of the gravel road to handle the kind of traffic he expects the new business will bring through.

“It’s nothing but a dirt, gravel road,” Reese said. “We don’t want the traffic on it – it’s a rural country road,” Reese said.

When the Bells purchased the property, Sara said the road was in pretty poor condition. She said ruts in the road, created by heavy rains earlier in the year, even made it difficult for a four-wheel drive to come through. She said their company would assume full responsibility for the condition of the road. This would include redoing drainage, including all the culverts under the neighbors’ driveways.

“The over arching goal here is for people to come and be able to experience the rural beauty of Polk County,” Bell said. “So our goal is not to create a theme park. This is truly a wilderness setting and we want to keep it that way.”

Messages left by the Bulletin in an effort to contact other property owners and residents along Honeybee Lane have not been returned.

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