By Alexa Livingston, UNE News Fellow
A couple who have lived on Sand Pond in South Sanford for 20 years are proposing to build a family-owned RV campground on the pond, but many of their neighbors are opposing it.
Bonnie and Michael Patterson are hoping to develop 22 RV sites, 22 guest cottages, three parking lots, a turnaround area for RVs and firetrucks, three laundry/bathhouse facilities, a new entrance off Sand Pond Road, and eventually a swimming pool. The cabins and sites would be located 75-100 feet away from the pond and 40 feet from the road as a courtesy, they said.
The Pattersons say that when they first envisioned the project a few years ago, they joined the ARVC, the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, to educate themselves about the campground industry. They also say they’ve taken steps to ensure an eco-friendly design approach, stating “we’re trying to be proactive before even going to the town for approval to make sure that we’re doing things the right way.”
The property has been surveyed by numerous environmental professionals, including the Department of Environmental Protection and state foresters, to assure that any tree removal or development plans would not harm the pond, the nearby Atlantic white cedar habitat, or vernal pool ecosystems. To further protect the pond, hydrogeologists have evaluated the direction of groundwater flow in 12 locations to prevent leaching from potential septic tanks, and the couple has confirmed that gas-powered boats will not be allowed on the pond from their development.
The campground would occupy three acres. The Pattersons plan to create walking trails on the remaining 110 acres they own, so visitors can experience Sanford’s beauty in an immersive way. “We love the area in the woods and the nature that’s around. And we really want to be able to share that with other people that are not fortunate enough to own a home on the pond,” Bonnie said.
The pond is mostly wooded and quiet this time of year. Many seasonal residents have moved south for the winter. Some residents who remain, though, have expressed concern over the plans. Holly Bennett, a Sanford resident of 22 years and member of a newly founded neighborhood action group, worries about the potential damage to wildlife, disturbance to residents, and the increase in traffic on Country Club Road 2 where she lives.
The group’s goal is to promote the intrinsic value of the land as stated in a 2009 Conservation Plan that names Sand Pond as part of a statewide ecologically significant focus area. They plan to address these concerns by protesting in emails to the Sanford Planning Board and by “reaching out to various land trusts and conservation groups, (such as the Sanford-Springvale Mousam Way Land Trust) to enlist their advice and support to halt the project,” Bennett said. The group is actively investigating the official creation of a Sand Pond Association and the possibility of obtaining legal counsel.
“This RV campground development is not in tune with the wildlife and the rural nature of the surroundings,” Bennett wrote in an email to the city. She pointed out that another campground, Huttopia Southern Maine, is already established across the pond from the Pattersons’ property, and this would increase risk to the area.
Brian Dumont, another Sanford resident and action group member, started a Change.org petition on Oct. 14 to try to stop the campsite from being approved. He wrote that growing up he considered Sand Pond “a sanctuary … offering a close connection with nature and the environment,” and hopes to “preserve Sand Pond’s rich biodiversity and natural beauty for future generations to enjoy.”
The Pattersons say they share a similar goal. “We want to be able to develop this in a way that’s friendly to the community, the wildlife, the forest itself, and ultimately, just share it with other people,” they wrote in an email. Their proposed campsites, they said, will be around 4,000 square feet, with some larger, creating a private, high-end camping experience while preserving the area’s natural beauty and wildlife.
The project requires approval by two city-appointed review authorities – the Site Plan Review Committee and the Planning Board, according to City Planner Erin Moriarty.
As for some of the resident concerns, city authorities could request changes, such as additional vegetation buffers or a different traffic pattern, to limit the proposed campground’s impacts on neighbors and the environment, Moriarty said. But, she noted that developing a new campground is allowed in the rural residential district, which includes the area around the pond.
“Change is difficult,” the Pattersons acknowledged, “but at the end of the day we’re going to do our best…to make this an experience that’s positive for everyone.”