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Tybee gets into camping business 

The past few weeks had many Tybee Islanders wearing their black arm bands for River's End Campground, one of only two camping facilities in east Chatham County.



Rumors that local developer Bobby Chu had a contract to purchase the facility and that it was zoned to allow construction of 31 single family houses were, in fact, true.



But in an unprecedented move (at least on Tybee), Tybee's city council stepped in and saved the campground -- for camping.



The City of Tybee Island has agreed to purchase Riverís End from Chu for $7 million. The purchase will be financed with a bond administered through the Chatham County Recreational Authority. The loan must be paid back within twenty years.



Tybee's elected officials may weather some criticism for locking in the acquisition without first getting public input, but Tybee Mayor Jason Buelterman notes that the purchase is "consistent with the publicís wishes as expressed in surveys, the master plan, and numerous public hearings."



In the short-run, Tybee taxpayers may pay some of the campgroundís costs. Tybeeís elected officials typically roll back the millage rate every year to keep local homeowners paying more or less the same in city taxes as they paid last year. The city doesnít need to increase the millage rate to increase revenues, because property values keep rolling upward.



Tybee City Council Member Paul Wolff indicates that leaving the millage rate where it is could provide revenues to cover the campground.



"The increase in our tax digest should satisfy our yearly debt service," Buelterman says.



Over the long term, Buelterman and Wolff believe revenues from the campground will make the loan payments by themselves. The city's yearly payment on the loan will be roughly half a million. The campground grossed $704,000 last year and netted $224,790.



Management costs were $200,000, Wolff notes. He is confident that the city can find someone to manage the campground for substantially less than that, which would increase the facilityís revenues.



River's End Campground allows many visitors an entree to Tybee that they would not otherwise have. Over the years, the RVs parked there have gotten quite a bit more affluent, but for those dedicated to the rough, the facility also features tent camping and cabins. The cabins have been sold separately and will not be a feature of the city's campground, however.



Wolff sees few other changes in the campground's future, though he would like to make the facility's pool open to the public. That would make a number of people on Tybee, like Mary Ann Bramble who has been lobbying hard for a public pool, happy, he notes. The campground has beach access and Wolff hopes to make it easily attractive to kayakers by adding a kayak launch, as well.



Buelterman says the campground will remain under its present management through August 31, "providing the city with the necessary time to locate an operator for the facility."



Greenspace advocate Rachel Perkins says the property could have been developed as single-family residences within sound ecological principles. But other Tybee residents were concerned about the future of the campground's forest.



The city does have an ordinance that specifically protects mature live oaks with a $1500 per tree fine for condemning them to the chain saw. Innovative building designs can preserve trees by wrapping roads and structures around them rather than clear cutting.



For others, the issue is Tybee's history and traditions.



"Tybee Island has lost many of its most treasured attractions to development and the city's leaders decided that enough was enough," says Buelterman.



"The old amusement park, the old waterslide, and many other unique parts of Tybee are now things of the past. We as an elected body did not want to stand by as another Tybee treasure was lost."

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