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Kalahari hearing draws a crowd
Kevin Gullette, the city's director of Economic Development and Tourism (foreground), listens to speakers.
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Date published: 1/16/2008
For more than three hours last night, more than 50 people told Fredericksburg's City Council what they thought about plans to offer incentives to Kalahari Resorts for its plan to build a $200 million water park hotel in Celebrate Virginia.
As of 10:15 last night, speakers had come out nearly 3-to-1 in favor of the project, but several voiced strong opposition.
Several speakers referred to past events that paved the way for the Kalahari project.
Former Mayor Bill Greenup and former Councilman Harold Bannister said they thought past councils showed great foresight in annexing the city land to the west of Interstate 95 and rezoning the land for Celebrate Virginia.
But Kitty Farley, who spent hours sitting in the public hearing back in 1998 that preceded the council's controversial vote for the rezoning for Celebrate Virginia, said she feels the Kalahari decision could be as detrimental to the city as she thinks that decision was.
Like several other speakers, she asked council members to slow down, and to wait until they receive and analyze the results of an outside consultant's study of the project's impact before they approve anything.
"It feels like dejà vu all over again," Farley said, referring back to the 1998 vote on Celebrate Virginia. "Please don't repeat the past mistakes of City Councils by rushing this decision."
Many speakers brought up concerns that have been voiced throughout this debate--whether there's enough water for a giant water park and how much traffic the project will bring.
City officials have said they have the capacity to meet Kalahari's water needs, and that the traffic impact won't hit at rush hour.
Other speakers questioned the sustainability of the water park business. As the city is watching revenues from Central Park, once its prized cash cow, dwindle, several residents wondered what happens if water parks fall out of favor with tourists?
City resident Anne Gray Fuller asked whether the city could believe the promises that have been made that Kalahari will be the catalyst that gets Celebrate Virginia going.
"It has been called an anchor that would spur development," she said.
"I thought the conference center was supposed to do that."