Critical information about a very large proposed
development in Wawona.
People are asking questions about what the Seventh Day Adventist Church (SDA) is planning to build in Wawona. Most of these answers can be found by carefully reading the SDA proposal and accompanying Environmental Impact Statement, which are posted by the Mariposa County Planning Department on the internet.
What is the SDA Church planning to do?
The SDA owns Camp Wawona in residential Section 35. Last year the SDA filed plans with the Mariposa County Building Department to convert the Camp Wawona summer camp for children into a year-round resort, a project that is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars and take up to 20 years to complete. The proposed resort will continue the summer programs for children and young adults, in addition the SDA wants to keep the resort fully operational and occupied the rest of the year by promoting programs for adults, families and other large groups and conventions.
But the SDA say they are planning to build a recreational camp, not a resort, what is the difference?
The dictionary defines resort as: “a place that is popular for recreation and vacations and provides accommodations and entertainment”. The SDA plans clearly describe a resort with all the amenities. In fact, the planned SDA resort will offer more and better amenities than any other lodging facility in Yosemite National Park or the surrounding area. Just recently when an SDA camp youth counselor was asked what he thought of the proposed expansion, he said the counselors were excited about getting a “deluxe Disneyland type resort” in Wawona. Furthermore, the SDA are already advertising Camp Wawona in the local yellow pages of the telephone directory under the heading “Resorts”.
Where are the SDA plans posted?
The plans are posted by the Mariposa County Planning Department at:
What does the SDA need from the community?
Camp Wawona is located in a part of Section 35 that is zoned for residential use only. Their current use is nonconforming and they need to be issued a specific plan amendment and a conditional use permit to repair or rebuild its buildings and continue operating where it is. The SDA are asking that the Wawona Town Plan Advisory Committee (WTPAC), the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors, and the National Park Service (NPS) grant a conditional use permit to operate their resort in a residential area, plus approve their plans for an expansion of Camp Wawona in Section 35.
What does the Record of Decision have to do with the proposed SDA plans?
The Record of Decision, which was signed and became law on August 9th of 2000, mandates that the NPS cannot build anything in Section 35 that is not compatible in character, density, and scale to existing residential and commercial development in Section 35. To maintain Wawona’s status-quo, and assure that the Record of Decision remains beneficial for the community, it is important for WAPOA and WTPAC to insist that the private sector not build anything in Section 35 that is not compatible in character, density, and scale to existing residential and commercial development in Section 35. The SDA plans propose a significant expansion beyond what is now in Section 35.
What exactly does the Record of Decision say?
"Wawona Housing Actions" in the recent NPS Record of Decision states:
"The Yosemite General Management Plan calls for 120 permanent and 320 seasonal employee beds in the Wawona area if housing is not available outside the park boundary. With regard to Section 35 in Wawona, it is the intent of the National Park Service that any development for administration or operations (including housing) would be compatible in character, density, and scale to existing residential and commercial development in Section 35." (Volume IA of the Final Yosemite Valley Plan/ Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement http://www.nps.gov/yose/planning/yvp/seis/vol_Ia/chapter_2_a2.html#0088 )
The NPS hands are now effectively tied by the Record of Decision unless the private sector in Wawona builds something that will be seen as “compatible in character, density, and scale” to what the NPS desires to build in Section 35 for its own purposes. If allowed to be built, the SDA resort buildings in Section 35 will be prototypes for anything else the NPS wants to build in Wawona.
Wawona already has the Wawona Hotel, doesn’t that set a precedence for like buildings in Section 35?
The Wawona Hotel is not in Section 35, it is over a mile away. The NPS mandate for Wawona specified by the Record of Decision concerns Section 35 only. The proposed SDA resort will be in Section 35.
Is the NPS looking at Wawona for any other projects besides Camp Wawona?
Recently the NPS listed Wawona’s Section 35 as one of the possible sites for a new Environmental Education Campus to be operated by the Yosemite Institute. The new campus needs lodging, meeting and recreational facilities similar to that requested by the SDA. See:
The NPS is responding to comments “regarding impacts to sensitive resources in the Crane Flat area where the existing campus is located”: a nice way of saying that the kids are messing up the environment and that the whole operation should be moved out of Crane Flat. But what would moving such a campus to Section 35 do to our community?
If an SDA resort in Section 35 is approved, the community could not legally object to a similar facility in Section 35, for example the Yosemite Institute campus, because the campus would be “compatible in character, density, and scale” to what will be at the SDA resort. The fact that the NPS has already considered Section 35 as a possible site for the Environmental Education Campus is likely only a sample of developments to come if the SDA plans are approved.
Does the Community of Wawona benefit by having an SDA resort within residential Section 35?
An SDA resort benefits the SDA membership and any other group or convention the facility is rented to. There is no apparent short term or long term benefit to the community of Wawona, but there are a lot of negatives and disadvantages. Located at the end of a dead end single lane residential road, the SDA are planning to operate the resort 365 days a year, with accompanying traffic, noise, congestion and safety issues. Supposedly during summer the children are closely supervised and not allowed to roam very far, but adults staying at the resort will not have the constraints required of children, and it is likely that many vehicles will come and go daily for sightseeing and other activities. Guests of Camp Wawona are not asked to pay park entrance fees but nevertheless they flood the popular Swinging Bridge area and beyond during summer operations. Year-round use of Camp Wawona will overwhelm the entire area with no seasonal relief. Furthermore, in the winter Forest Drive is plowed only one lane wide with no shoulder. Passage of cars, much less busses and supply trucks, in opposite directions is nearly impossible. In addition to this is the fact that someday the buildings of the SDA resort may provide the excuse for like construction on both sides of the river by other private owners, the concessionaire or the Park Service.
Camp Wawona is private property, shouldn’t the SDA Church be able to build anything there that they want?
Owners of private property can build anything they want provided they conform with local zoning requirements. Camp Wawona is located in an area zoned for residential use only. The SDA Church can build a resort in Section 35 only if they are granted a conditional use permit to do so.
Is the SDA Church asking for special privileges?
The SDA Church is only one of the property owners in the mountain residential area of Section 35. It is very unlikely that a property owner in Section 35 would be allowed to build a resort or hotel on their property, likewise the SDA Church should not be given preferential treatment and permitted to build a resort in a residential area.
The SDA have operated Camp Wawona as a summer camp for children for over 50 years, shouldn’t they continue?
As a summer camp for children, Camp Wawona operates at full capacity only during June, July and August of the year. The rest of the year the facility is unoccupied except for occasional weekend use. Furthermore, during off season weekend use the facility is never more than partially occupied. This limited operation is something that the community is familiar with, accepts and even encourages.
Converting Camp Wawona into a resort will enable the facility to be occupied at full capacity 365 days a year. This is an overwhelming expansion of visitor activity in residential Section 35. Such an operation simply does not fit in with the rural mountain residential community character of Wawona’s Section 35.
Primary use of Camp Wawona will shift from kids for 3 months to adults for 9 months and kids for 3 months.
The Wawona Hotel does not get enough business to operate full time in the winter, will the SDA resort be able to operate all year?
The Wawona Hotel is not popular off-season because its rooms are somewhat primitive and most do not have private baths. A better comparison would be the Ahwahnee Hotel, which is fully occupied the entire year even though it does not boast anything like the amenities planned to be offered at the SDA resort.
The SDA Church has decided to invest several tens of millions of dollars to rebuild Camp Wawona. It is not likely the SDA Church would make such a financial commitment if they thought the facility would be fully occupied only in the summer. Furthermore, the SDA plans specifically state that the resort will be operated all year, and the buildings are designed for year-round use.
The SDA Church will draw from its membership worldwide. In the past, the SDA Church has occasionally rented out Camp Wawona to other organizations, for example the Yosemite Institute, photography clubs, artist workshops and other nonreligious groups not associated with the SDA Church. It should be expected that the SDA Church will rent their facility to outside groups whenever necessary to maintain occupancy throughout the year.
But the SDA claim to be good neighbors, shouldn’t the community let them build a resort simply because of that?
The SDA and Camp Wawona did not contribute (neither comments, letters nor legal funds) to help defend Wawona several years ago when the community was fighting plans to locate concessionaire employee dorms and recreational facilities within residential Section 35. They were asked but ignored the request, possibly because they were planning to expand their own facilities in Section 35.
The Clovis office of the SDA Central Conference pays annual dues for the Wawona Area Property Owners Association (WAPOA) and Friends of the Library. But the families and individuals that live year round at Camp Wawona have not expressed interest or contributed (baked goods, raffle items, books, time, money, etc.) to the library, or the school, or the community center, or any community project. The SDA camp is the largest privately owned property in Wawona, but one of the least involved.
It seems that as a matter of policy the SDA prefer not to be bothered by community issues or projects. We are hearing from them now only because they need community approval before they can proceed with their building agenda.
Didn't the SDA say they would help Wawona property owners in the future?
In exchange for WAPOA’s endorsement of their project, the SDA said they would actively oppose future attempts to place NPS/Concessionaire high-density employee housing in Section 35. Apparently without WAPOA endorsement, the SDA Church will continue to remain “uninvolved.“ No one else in the community demanded or expected a payback when they contributed time and money to help defend Section 35 a few years ago. Furthermore, the mere existence of an SDA resort in Section 35 will be a tacit approval by the Wawona community of any similar developments in Section 35 by private owners, the NPS or the concessionaire.
Why does the SDA plow Forest Drive in the winter?
Forest Drive is a county road and the county plows it. Apparently the SDA do not like to wait for the county to do the job and prefer to keep the road plowed for their own convenience, probably for access by SDA staff and employees. Granted, plowing the road is also beneficial to the other residents that live on Forest Drive and will be missed if they stop.
What about swimming instruction offered to community children during the summer?
The SDA offers swimming instruction to community children as part of their customary summer camp for children. However, with the exception of the swimming lessons for local children, no one in the community uses facilities in Camp Wawona.
Why is this an expansion?
The SDA Church does not have a 450 person capacity gymnasium at Camp Wawona now (in fact it has no gymnasium at all), therefore Camp Wawona should not be planning to build a gymnasium of any size in Section 35. If built, the gymnasium will be largest building in Section 35.
The SDA does not have a 350 person capacity meeting hall/dining hall/kitchen at Camp Wawona now (it presently has a 154 person dining hall/kitchen), therefore the SDA should plan to build a dining hall no larger than 154 person capacity to replace it. The proposed hall/kitchen is nearly as large as the proposed gymnasium.
The SDA does not have hotel-room type buildings at Camp Wawona now (it presently has sixteen cabins of up to 11 person occupancy each, most with a single bathroom in each cabin; and four dormitory buildings of 13, 18, 36 and 54 person occupancy respectively, all with community bathrooms), therefore planned replacement accommodations should be buildings of like occupancy, size and type.
The SDA does not have a 250 person capacity meeting hall/chapel at Camp Wawona, however present zoning may allow a chapel in residential Section 35 if the chapel’s use is strictly limited to church activities.
How does the overnight occupancy of the Wawona Hotel compare with the overnight occupancy of the proposed SDA resort?
The Wawona Hotel has an average overnight occupancy of 222 persons in 104 guestrooms, most without private bathrooms, housed in six buildings (year-round use). Substantially larger, the proposed SDA resort will have an overnight occupancy capacity of 338 persons in an undisclosed number of guestrooms, with private bathrooms, housed in a group of five large buildings (24 to 48 people each, year-round use), eight cabins (18 persons each, year-round use), and sixteen tent cabins/teepees (10 persons each, summer use only).
But the SDA claim they are only building “mini-lodges” not hotel buildings, what is the difference?
The dictionary defines hotel building as: “a building where people go for lodging, and where meals and other facilities such as meeting rooms are available.” The year-round accommodations proposed by the SDA will have individual hotel-like rooms with private bathrooms. Apparently the SDA think the term “mini-lodges” is less imposing than calling them what they really are: hotel buildings.
Is the SDA planning day use in addition to overnight accommodations?
The SDA plans specify a total indoor usage capacity of 1,050 persons (450 gymnasium + 350 meeting/dinning hall + 250 meeting hall/chapel) plus outdoor amphitheaters and outdoor meeting places of undisclosed capacity, all this for a facility that will supposedly limit overnight accommodations to 338 persons, why the extra meeting capacity?
The SDA are apparently planning for extensive day use by persons not staying overnight, perhaps for convocations or conventions. The filed SDA plans hint at this: “There may be times when the total on-site number of guests will exceed 338. [For example] This may occur during a local community function or a luncheon for parents of children who were campers at Camp Wawona.” (Camp Wawona Master Plan Section of the Camp Wawona Project Description, August 28, 2005). Such day use activity will generate excessive traffic and congestion daily on the two miles of one lane residential Forest Drive which dead ends at Camp Wawona.
The SDA Church has already spent a lot of money and time on plans, won't that effort be wasted if they don't build a resort in Section 35?
Unfortunately the SDA Church has invested time and money on plans for a resort in Section 35, however this does not obligate the community to restructure its character to accommodate the SDA Church. Apparently the SDA Church is unaware of, or chooses to ignore that the community wants to keep Section 35 as it is: a rural mountain residential area. Above all, the community does not want the traffic, noise, congestion, and safety issues inherent in the operation of a neighborhood resort.
The Bottom Line:
The SDA Church has traditionally operated Camp Wawona primarily as a summer camp for children with occasional secondary use by adults during off-season weekends. The Community of Wawona seems to accept Camp Wawona’s location in Section 35 and is not opposed to them repairing or replacing Camp Wawona’s aging buildings so that the SDA can continue operating as they have in the past.
The Community of Wawona should think very carefully about the consequences of expanding Camp Wawona into a resort designed to attract adults and thereby maintain guest occupancy year-round. An SDA resort will bring year-round traffic, noise, congestion and safety problems not compatible with the community’s character. Section 35 is not an appropriate location for the proposed SDA resort.
What can the community do about the proposed SDA plans?
Please think very carefully about the consequences of allowing the SDA Church to convert Camp Wawona into a resort. County and NPS planners (contact people listed below) need to hear from you. Do not delay.
The County review process will commence with a public hearing before the Wawona Town Planning Advisory Committee (possibly Sunday November 19, 2006 at the Wawona Community Building). County Planning staff, SDA Project representatives and NPS representatives will be present. Public comments will be taken at this time and the Committee will decide two issues:
1. A recommendation to the Board of Supervisors for the approval or rejection of the Camp Wawona Project.
2. A proposal to amend the Wawona Specific Plan to allow recreational camps as a conditional use in the existing Mountain Residential zone.
The Wawona Town Plan Advisory Committee needs to know what you want. What needs to be answered is this:
Should the Wawona Town Plan Advisory Committee recommend that plans for a resort in Section 35 be approved or rejected?
Should a conditional use permit be granted by Mariposa County allowing the SDA Church to continue operating Camp Wawona in residential Section 35? If so, with what conditions?
It is also important to inform the WAPOA Board of Directors what position WAPOA should take regarding the proposed SDA expansion.
Please write and/or email your comments to the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors, the Wawona Town Plan Advisory Committee, the WAPOA Board of Directors, and the National Park Service. Address your comments to:
Kris Schenk, Director
Mariposa County Planning Department
Mariposa, CA 95338-2039
Bob Pickard, Supervisor of District V
Mariposa County Board of Supervisors
Mariposa, CA 95338
Ed Mee, Chairman
Wawona Town Plan Advisory Committee
Wawona Ca 95389
Paul De Santis, Planning Commissioner for District 5, and
President of the Wawona Area Property Owners Association
Wawona, CA 95389
Michael J. Tollefson, Superintendent
Attn: For the Preservation and Protection of Wawona
P. O. Box 577
Yosemite, CA 95389
This communication is being sent from For the Preservation and Protection of Wawona by the following group of concerned citizens: Autumn Christianson, Pat Sischo, Angela Wells, Sara McCune, John Musgrove, Jane Winward, Paul Devereaux, Diana Escola Watson, Ed Fahlen and Cherie Hall.