Edwards Beach

Edwards Beach in Henrico is the intended site of a project designed to bring the Northampton County Conference Center to Lake Gaston.

HENRICO - At least several Northampton County residents around Lake Gaston have voiced concerns over the Edwards Beach Project that is poised to bring a two-story Northampton County Conference Center, and more, to the lake site.

Some of the residents say their questions to Northampton County government officials have either not been fully addressed or altogether ignored.

As of press time, the Gazette-Observer had not able to reach Northampton County Commissioner Chairman Charles R. Tyner or Commissioner Kelvin Edwards, who represents the townships of Lake Gaston, Gaston, Pleasant Hill, and Garysburg. In previous public hearings regarding the project, that were held via Facebook livestream, Tyner said the county had addressed the citizens’ concerns and was resolute about moving forward with the plans that also include walking trails, boat slips and space for the county’s health department and law enforcement. In those meetings, previously covered by the Gazette-Observer, Tyner laid out his vision for the project and emphasized the county’s desire to bring public services to the western portion of the county on the lake while also reaping the potential financial benefits of a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose building within the county’s most desirable real estate.

“I guess my biggest concern is they’re spending a lot of money,” said Northampton County resident Michael Blair. “It seems to me they’re forcing the issue. It’s like somebody got it in their head, ‘I want to put this facility here.’ And do what? Where’s the need?”

Blair, a government contractor, moved near the Edwards Beach area in 2015 and isn’t necessarily opposed to the project; but he would like to receive detailed information about topics such as environmental impact, traffic (both on the road and water), potential new sewer hookups, and overall safety.

Blair said the emailed response from the county in a January 2021 exchange regarding environmental impact studies was, “Our department is unaware of any environmental impact studies.”

“I can’t even cut a tree down without getting Dominion Power’s permission if I’m below the high water mark,” Blair said. “So how do they get to build an entire facility and new boat docks without even getting an environmental impact study?”

Blair and fellow Henrico resident Craig Lewis say there wasn’t sufficient advertisement of the public hearings, which were closed to the public because of COVID-19 guidelines. Blair wonders why those hearings couldn’t have waited, and why more meetings can’t be held now as state restrictions have eased.

“If I had been standing there,” Blair said, “asking them, ‘Have you done an environmental impact study?’ I find it hard to believe that the answer in person would have been ‘Eh, we’re unaware of any environmental impact studies. Next.’ We would have had follow-up questions and we would have had an exchange, and I would have been able to voice my concerns.”

Blair, Lewis and Jack Baker each have long lists of questions that haven’t been answered directly, or fully. And more of their neighbors feel the same.

Baker spends about half of his year at the lake and the other half in New Jersey. Baker sees fewer of the positives the county highlighted in its meetings. “I’m opposed to it,” Baker said. “I’m opposed to it on the grounds of the traffic in the area; the possible devaluing of our property.”

“They say that Northampton County needs this facility - That’s fine,” Blair said. “What other properties were looked into and what was the cost of doing the project there versus doing the project at Edwards Beach? The answer was, ‘We haven’t looked into any other properties.’

“Before we even knew they were putting the facility there, they already bought the property. And they just recently bought more property. They bought the property planning to put the facility there before they ever planned a public meeting and got any input from any of the residents.”

Tyner responded to that concern in the late Dec. 2020 meeting by saying realtors had presented to the county the location and that, “We decided that we would go to this property because of the size, because of the elevation. It’s just an ideal piece of property.”

Tyner also maintained that property values would not decrease and expressed frustration with the lack of growth in Northampton County, comparing it to the steadily burgeoning, urban Wake County city of Cary, where he pastors a church. He said the attitude in Cary is “Let’s make it work” and in Northampton County, it’s “No, it won’t work.”

“Sometimes,” Tyner said, “I begin to wonder if Northampton County really wants to grow.”