Some Burrillville Residents Want to ‘Getaway’ from Proposed Glamping Site on Former Boy Scout Land
February 20, 2023
BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Getaway House, known for its Instagrammable glamping experiences in dozens of locations across the country, wants to bring their tiny houses to the tiniest state.
The company has proposed building a 65-cabin outpost at Cub World, a site off Buck Hill Road on land the Narragansett Council of the Boy Scouts of America is selling.
While the plan is in early stages — it has gone before the Planning Board, which voted to move the project along to the Zoning Board of Review — the proposed campsite has drawn criticism and frustration from some locals who are worried about the environmental impact and future projects that may be allowed.
At a packed Feb. 6 Planning Board meeting, representatives of Getaway laid out their plans for the property and claimed it will have little impact on nature and neighboring residents.
Getaway hopes to build on the infrastructure that already exists on the former Boy Scout camp, including heated buildings, paved and gravel roads, and septic systems.
Scott Levit, senior manager of real estate entitlement at Getaway, said the company would likely tear down some existing structures and reforest the areas where they once stood.
The company plans to bring in prefabricated cabins made in Massachusetts, which will limit disruptions on the property, according to Levit.
If the permitting and construction processes move forward, Levit said the cabins would be scheduled to open in 2024.
The sale of the property hasn’t been completely unexpected. Locals had speculated that land the Boy Scouts owned in Burrillville might be vulnerable in the national organization’s efforts to sell assets and settle its debts after it recently filed for bankruptcy and settled a national sexual abuse case.
But according to Scout executive and CEO of the Narragansett Council of Boy Scouts of America, Tim McCandless, the decision to sell came before the bankruptcy filing.
A few years ago, the organization completed an analysis of local Boy Scout properties and decided which locations were “core” to its mission and which served more minor roles in operations, McCandless said.
Following a merger between the Narragansett Council and the Annawon Council of Southeastern Massachusetts, the local chapter moved its summer operation from Cub World to Norse Camp in Kingston, Mass. Since then, the Burrillville property has only been used on weekends by smaller groups.
“Locally, the Scouts own seven properties in the area, a number which is unprecedented among Boy Scout councils,” McCandless said.
The Cub World parcel is about 200 acres, and the organization also owns more than 1,000 acres nearby.
Levitt said at the Planning Board meeting that Cub World wouldn’t be the first Boy Scout property that Getaway has purchased.
Although the new operations at the site would still be considered camping, several residents at the Planning Board meeting raised concerns that the Getaway project would be more disruptive and use more resources than Cub World has.
The current occupancy at Cub world is about 300 people, according to McCandless, “although that would be at the high end, and it’s been a while since we’ve had that many.”
Getaway’s camp will have a maximum occupancy of less than 200 people, but will be open year-round, Levit said.
To limit visitor traffic, Levit said checkout times are during off-peak travel hours.
Individual cabins have 5-gallon water heaters. “I assure you people are not going to be taking long showers” using up local water, he added.
There aren’t any common areas on the property for guests to gather and no outdoor amplifiers are allowed on the grounds.
At 10 p.m., staff would make rounds on the site to enforce quiet hours and quench fire pits. During no burn advisories, Getaway does not provide firewood to customers. Getaway never allows outside wood into their camps to prevent the spread of invasive species, Levit said.
Jason Malo, president of the Wakefield Pond Association, told ecoRI News that his members are worried about how the camp site may impact the lake.
Wakefield Pond sits downgradient from Cedar Swamp Pond, which partially sits on the former Cub World site. Beavers and other animals live in the wetlands on the property.
Getaway will have to comply with state wetlands laws and has decided not to advertise the pond frontage in its marketing materials for the Burrillville site, Levit said at the meeting.
The company also won’t rent any water sports equipment to their guests, but would allow customers who bring their own paddle boards to use them on the lake. Motorized boats and trailers are prohibited, however.
On top of those restrictions, the association is also asking the company to pay a fee to help pay for regular pond removals of invasive species. The association fee is voluntary for residents in the neighborhood around the pond. The company and association haven’t come to an official agreement, but Levit signaled at the meeting that the company is willing to pay the fee.
In addition to its proximity to wetlands and ponds, the proposed Getaway site also sits between two large conserved open spaces, the Buck Hill and George Washington Wildlife Management areas.
This makes the parcel particularly valuable from an environmental perspective, according to Paul Roselli, president of the Burrillville Land Trust.
Getaway is relatively ecological friendly compared to what could be proposed for the land, something like a residential complex, Roselli said.
“We like projects like this,” Roselli told ecoRI News, because they have environmental and recreational components, and get people into the community. “What we don’t like about them, and this is a really good example, is that this property, probably in 20 years, will be sold for housing lots.”
“We have no intention to sell the land. We will be around for a long, long, long time,” Levit said at the meeting.
But Roselli said that wasn’t enough. To prevent development on the land in perpetuity, Roselli and the land trust would like to see a legal covenant or a conservation easement put into place that restricts future use of the property, even if Getaway sells it.
“So the property is never, ‘never’ with a big ‘N’, Never broken up into house lots and developed into single-family residences. Never,” he said. “They jump up and down and say how green we are. Well, if they’re saying that, then they should put their money where their mouth is and come up with a legal doctrine that says this property will never be developed.”
He brought up the suggestion at the recent meeting, but a lawyer for Getaway said it would be an unusual business practice for a company to agree to something like that.
“Probably for the same reason that Boy Scouts didn’t put any restrictions on [the land], we wouldn’t put any restrictions on future development,” Levit said.