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Tom’s Barbecue seeks support for RV resort

Keystone-Lake Region Business Association President Harold Gilstrap (right) introduces Tom’s High on the Hog Real Pit Barbecue CEO Vincent Esson to the group. Esson asked business leaders to support his effort to build an RV resort next to the restaurant. Gilstrap said the association is taking no official position on the project.



The CEO of Tom’s High on the Hog Real Pit Barbecue asked Lake Region business leaders to support his plan to build an RV resort near the restaurant, during the association’s June mixer last week.

Vincent Esson said he preferred calling the proposal an RV resort rather than an RV park.
“When I hear ‘park,’” he said, “I think of a trailer park.”

Esson said his firm is modeling the Tom’s project on an RV facility in Williston.
“It has different amenities, beautiful landscaping, it’s a true gem,” he said of the Williston property. “It’s not just a piece of land with a bunch of spots and just one building. We’re going to have multiple facilities and it’s going to be really nice.”

Esson said the resort would create energy for the area. He added that the restaurant’s entrance has become a revolving door for people looking for jobs.

He also said his motivation for building the project is his love for the area.
“I really fell in love with Keystone,” he said. “I care about the people. I care about the local community and I care about helping the local businesses.”

Esson said that when he first approached Bradford County commissioners about his plans, they were enthusiastic. However, county leaders expressed concern about a lack of fire and emergency medical services in the area.

“We said no problem,” Esson recalled. “We’re going to commit to $150,000 to build up the local fire station.”

Esson said his team also met with Department of Transportation officials whom concluded that because of traffic on S.R. 100, the entrance to the facility would have to be on C.R. 21B instead of the state highway.

Esson then repeated complaints about the special exception hearing before Bradford County commissioners that Tom’s lawyers made in an appeal after commissioners denied Tom’s request for a special exception on April 20.

False information and a hostile environment
“Somebody’s going out and putting letters in people’s mailboxes in the local community, saying how we’re going to pump raw sewage into the lake, how we’re going to destroy the lake. It created all this false information,” Esson said.

He added that opponents to the project created a hostile environment during the hearing.
Esson said that claims by opponents that RV resort residents would monopolize the Santa Fe Lake boat ramp were ridiculous.

“We said, ‘RVs aren’t going to haul boats from Canada,’” he recalled.
He said opponents took over the meeting by chanting and shouting down project supporters.
“It was horrible,” he recalled. “We were bullied. The commissioners were bullied.”

Esson said that commissioners whom expressed support for the project before the hearing, were intimidated into withdrawing that support.

He added that as the meeting descended into chaos, he tried a different tact.
“We tried to stop the process,” he recalled. “We said, ‘hey listen, there are some unanswered questions in the community. We would like to address them in a workshop – educate these people. We’re not hiding anything.’ They should have stopped the meeting then. It wasn’t stopped.”

Commissioner: “I can’t sleep at night.”
Esson said that after the meeting, he and his partner were prepared to take their proposal elsewhere, perhaps Tampa. However, some commissioners expressed remorse for how the hearing went, and asked the applicants to appeal the vote.

“One of them said, ‘I couldn’t sleep at night,’” Esson said of his discussions with commissioners. “’You guys were treated unfairly. We made the wrong decision. Would you please come back and appeal?’”

Esson said he and his partner eventually gave into the commissioners’ pleas.
“I love Keystone,” he told the business group. “I want to invest money here.”

Economic impact
He also said that the resort will benefit not just resort owners, but the entire business community.

“When people come to this resort, they’re going to get a pamphlet, free of charge, with a listing of all the local businesses and a map of the local area,” he said. “They’re going to come, they’re going to go to Ace Hardware. They’re going to go to Johnny’s Barbecue, they’re going to go to the supermarket and they’re going to spend money.”

Esson said that within an 18-month period, RV resort residents will spend over $1 million in the local economy.

He said that business leaders who want to boost economic activity should speak at the July 20 appeal hearing and support his project.

“The commissioners want to hear from people that want economic growth in the community,” he said.

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