Plans for a luxury RV park in Pittsylvania County were voted down by the board of supervisors there in November. But Lee Vogler, a councilman in neighboring Danville, didn’t want to see the project leave the region just because the county didn’t want it.
Vogler said he contacted project developer Joe Cubas the morning after the county’s denial. They’ve been working together since then, and Cubas last week submitted a special use permit application for the RV park to the city of Danville.
“Rather than just see it leave our region entirely, I thought, let me reach out and see if he had considered trying to find a location in the city to make it happen,” Vogler said.
The proposed project would bring in considerable tax revenue for the city, according to the application — possibly more than $1.3 million annually.
“It would be a major, major win for us to make this happen,” Vogler said, adding that the tax revenue, on top of additional tourism, would be beneficial to the region.
Cubas said that early forecasts estimate a project cost of around $10 million, but that number will change once actual design, architectural and engineering plans are created.
The project will go before the planning commission in April, and if the commission recommends approval, it will go to the city council for a final decision.
The 46-acre project, called the Palace Resort, would include 333 RV sites and “resort-style” amenities like pools, spas, restaurants, bars and a clubhouse with entertainment rooms, a gym, tennis and pickleball courts, according to the application.
The Pittsylvania County Planning Commission initially approved Cubas’ rezoning request for a luxury RV resort by a 5-3 vote at its September meeting, despite opposition from residents who were concerned about noise, traffic and safety around the site.
Residents also complained that Cubas had not talked to anyone who lived near the area where the project was proposed, in the Westover District on Vandola Church Road.
County residents voiced these same concerns at the November board of supervisors meeting, where the project was denied.
Cubas blames politics and infighting for the reversal; several county supervisors have a history of disagreeing with one another, and he believes his project became “a political football.”
“I got caught in the middle of that,” he said. “I left with a very bitter taste in my mouth.”
He was ready to give up on the region until Vogler and another Danville councilman, Madison Whittle, asked him to consider submitting his project to the city, he said.
They sold him on Danville, Cubas said, and he began working with real estate agents to find potential properties for the project.
But he also said he learned from the Pittsylvania process and has tried to be mindful of people who live near the Danville property. He said he rejected site plans that he thought didn’t provide enough protection for neighbors.
“I wanted to make sure that my setbacks were greater than what is required to protect neighbors,” Cubas said. “Normally, you see RV parks line up the site right along the property line. … I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to protect the neighbors even further. So I increased the setback, put in a buffer, and then set the RV sites further away.”
The current site plans have the RV sites about 100 feet from the property line, he said.
He also found a property that’s already zoned for an RV resort, a parcel on Jenny Lane near Goodyear Boulevard. It’s near light industrial and industrially zoned properties, giving the area “a commercial element,” he said. Though the property has the correct zoning classification, all campgrounds require a special use permit and must come before the planning commission, according to the city’s zoning ordinance.
Cubas, who is from Florida, said that he was attracted to the Danville-Pittsylvania County area in part by news that a Caesars casino resort would open in the city in 2024. He owns two properties in Florida where RV resorts are being developed, and he said he’s gone through the rezoning process for such projects almost 10 times.
The Danville area was even more attractive because there are currently no luxury RV resorts there, he said.
“When you’re a business person, and you see that there isn’t anything like this there, obviously that is extremely enticing to be able to be the first one,” Cubas said.
Caesars Virginia, the Martinsville Speedway and the Virginia International Raceway are all tourist attractions that would bring visitors to the Palace Resort, Cubas said. The property is also a short walk from the Goodyear Golf Course.
And Cubas said that Danville itself, near the North Carolina border, is in a good spot to capitalize on the RV industry, which has boomed since the beginning of the pandemic.
The annual economic impact of the RV industry is $2 billion in Virginia and $3 billion in North Carolina, according to the RV Industry Association. Nationally, the RV industry is a $140 billion industry.
“Danville is in the center of a $5 billion industry,” Cubas said. “Are we just going to sit here and let that opportunity pass us by? That’s what the county did.”
Combined, the RV industry in Virginia and North Carolina affects “over 1,000 businesses, generating more than 22,000 jobs with over $1.5 billion in wages and just under $2 billion in campgrounds and travel-related expenses,” the project application says.
“Additionally, the RV industry generated more than $350 million in tax revenue to the respective municipalities throughout Virginia and North Carolina,” it says.
The Palace Resort would be high-end, Cubas said, and would attract a wealthy clientele.
“Some of these people have RVs that are worth half a million dollars and up,” he said. “[The Palace Resort] will be a premium tourist destination, and because of the price point that it’s going to have, you’re going to get people who know they’re going to spend $500, $1,000, even $5,000 gambling in a weekend.”
If it’s approved, he said he’d like to align the opening of the RV resort with the opening of the casino. Construction on the RV resort would likely only take about six or seven months, he said.
And tourists will also spend money in the city, Cubas said.
“This resort is going to bring in that tourist, and he’s not only going to come to the RV resort and Caesars,” he said. “He’s also going to go downtown, he’s going to go to the bars, he’s going to go to the restaurants, he’s going to go to the shops, he’s going to spend money in Danville.”
And there are plenty of other tourism opportunities for RV resorts, Cubas said, mentioning RV conventions and events like Bike Week, a motorcycle rally.
“Bike Week alone could bring in over a half-million people over an eight- to 10-day span,” he said. “They’d be coming to spend money.”
If the Palace Resort project is approved, Cubas doesn’t plan to stop there. His application also discusses an adjacent 55-acre property, where he said he’d like to develop single-family homes.
Both properties are owned by a trust, and one of the trustees is Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, who wanted to sell the two parcels together, Cubas said. Cubas’ LLC is set to close on the property by August, according to a purchase agreement included in the application.
He said he plans to submit an application for the residential housing piece of the project during the next planning commission cycle.
“The single-family homes are probably going to end up being in the $250,000 to $300,000 range,” Cubas said. “They won’t be the super affordable homes, but they won’t be super expensive, so more for your middle-class family.”
Danville is experiencing a housing shortage and has a desperate need for new home construction, according to a recent housing demand analysis by Ken Danter, founder and president of real estate consultant The Danter Company.
Vogler said he felt optimistic that the project would move through both the planning commission and city council and be approved.
“On the planning commission side, [Cubas] has worked with our staff, and he’s done everything he’s needed to do, checked every box,” Vogler said. “And on the council side, these are the types of projects that we like and we celebrate and we encourage.”