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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Billy Thomas talks July 21 about his land in Charleston, Tenn., where he plans to build a luxury RV park on the Hiwassee River.

The Bradley County Commission has approved rezoning for an 8-acre luxury RV park on the Hiwassee River despite some residents' concerns zoning rules aren't clear enough.

Billy Thomas, the developer of the riverside property that was rezoned in an 8-4 vote under new planning rules that govern mobile home parks and travel trailer parks, has hit a snag or two along the way to building what he says will be a unique, luxury development east of the town of Charleston, but Monday's commission vote cleared the way to start the first work.

"It's a big relief," Thomas said Thursday in a phone interview. "I think I have shown everybody — both the commissioners and the public — I just want to do the right thing."

Thomas, 64, plans to construct a high-end park to sell or lease spaces to luxury RV owners seeking retirement or seasonal homes in a development with full amenities, he said during a recent tour of the property. His tentative designs include large concrete pads for luxury RVs, a clubhouse, community pavilion and fire pit, and a boat launch site on the creek running through the back of the property.

It wasn't the luxury RV park drawing fire Monday, it was the new rezoning rule passed in May that was used to rezone the property for RVs while also allowing for the development of a mobile home park, according to nearby resident Daniel Marlow. Marlow has launched a petition against the development he believes should be zoned under its own specific rule, restraining development to exactly what Thomas says he wants to build.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga planning panel turns down Lakesite RV park)

"I'm not opposed to private property owners rights," Marlow told commissioners Monday night. "You have a petition there with 82 signatures on it from Bradley County voters and over 200 signatures on it from potential Bradley County voters — you can't discount somebody just because they don't live here because they might live here someday."

Marlow called for commissioners to vote down the rezoning so Thomas' plans could go back to the Planning Commission, where the new rezoning rules could be created for the project while protecting against development of a mobile home park.

"Don't deny a private property owner's request to develop their property. Let's just lay the foundation correctly," he said. "Let's go research these similar places in Townsend and other places that it's modeled after and make sure that we've done everything we can to ensure 15 years from now somebody doesn't buy (the property) and say, 'Hey, it's a run-down resort, now we can throw a bunch of trailers on it because it was zoned as a mobile home park.'"

Commissioner Howard Thompson saw some sense in Marlow's idea for a new zoning rule specifically for a development like Thomas plans, but Commissioner Charlotte Peak said more zoning rules are unnecessary and make planning too complicated. Thomas' proposal already meets requirements for approval, Peak said.

County Mayor D. Gary Davis said even though a mobile home park could be allowed at Thomas' property, the county's mobile home park regulations are so strict they make building one too expensive.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Billy Thomas talks July 21 about his land in Charleston, Tenn., where he plans to build a luxury RV park on the Hiwassee River.

(READ MORE: Luxury RV park slated to open in Fort Oglethorpe this summer)

In 1999, Bradley County leaders created new mobile home regulations that included requirements for all roads in a mobile home park to meet county road construction standards so they can be adopted into the county road system, Davis said.

"That's why you haven't seen a new mobile home park in 23 years," he said.

Commissioner Mike Hughes asked Thomas whether he would be willing to put a restriction in the property deed to bar mobile homes or modular homes.

"Without question. I'd be happy to do that," Thomas told commissioners.

Marlow, while he seemed to approve of Thomas' assurances, still said the rezoning rules should be modified to make the difference between RV parks and mobile home parks clear for issues that arise in the future.

Thomas said Thursday the attorney for the title company he works with is drawing up the deed this week with the restrictions in it.

"I want to do a quality development that will raise the standard in Bradley County for RV parks," he said. "I'm willing to do what it takes to try to appease those who are concerned about my development."

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / A billboard for Billy Thomas' RV resort in Charleston, Tenn., is shown on July 21.
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