A proposed development
threatens the Rainbow River
Westgate Resorts and Jim Gissy are asking for a change to the City of Dunnellon’s Comprehensive Plan to allow them to develop a 90-acre Resort and RV park on currently undeveloped lands along the east side of the Rainbow River.
If approved by the Dunnellon City Council and permitted by state environmental agencies, this development will imperil and further degrade the future of the Rainbow River and harm existing business, property owners, and recreational users as well as the ecology of the river.
What's the Rush?
Westgate and the City are rushing ahead with the amendment at a time when rising pandemic cases prevent people from gathering to participate in the approval process AND without the required analysis to determine how the development will impact the Rainbow River.
The fate of this development and the Rainbow River rests primarily in the hands of the Dunnellon City Council which represents the 1,800 residents of this small Florida town at the confluence of the Rainbow and Withlacoochee Rivers. Local Citizens are fighting back before the river and the community are irreparably changed. Sign up at right so we can let you know of meetings to attend, people to contact, and any news.
An already stressed system:
Nitrogen pollution in the River is SEVEN times above water quality standards
Flows are down by 20%
Increased nitrogen pollution combined with decreased flows encourage algae.
An astounding 200,000+ people already crowd the river each year, the resort would nearly double that number.
About the development
The proposed plan: Click to enlarge
James Gissy, Executive Vice-President of Westgate Resorts, an Orlando-based timeshare company, owns well over 100 acres along the river. He has applied to the City of Dunnellon to change the land use and zoning of a swath of riverfront land from Agriculture to Commercial. This would enable him to partner with Westgate Resorts to develop the land into a massive entertainment resort fronting ½ mile of the river called "Gissy Rainbow River Ranch."
The development would consist of a hotel, a lodge, an activity center, restaurant, 250 RV spaces, several dozen camping, glamping, and teepee sites, docks capable of launching 65 tubes per hour, and parking for several hundred cars. He also claims that he can close off East Blue Cove to the public to create a "private lagoon" and offer a boat launch, a floating tiki bar, and overnight stays in pontoon boats for the exclusive use of his resort.
To see a thorough presentation of the proposal, including citizen concerns, we highly recommend that you watch this video of Gissy and Westgate's presentation to the Dunnellon City Council in November 2019.
Problems with the Development
Wrong Development, Wrong Developer
River use could nearly double
1. Rainbow River Overuse
Under the proposed development conditions, the Westgate Resort would be allowed to launch 65 tubers per hour, which could nearly double the number of people on the River.
Don't skip the study
The Dunnellon City Comprehensive Plan calls for the creation of a carrying capacity study for the Rainbow River and for the City to “amend its Comprehensive Plan… consistent with the study.” This study has not been done. Without a carrying capacity study there is no way to know if the River can sustain the proposed level of use. Dunnellon can avoid the fate of other scenic rivers in Florida that suffer from overcrowding and overuse.
2. Rainbow River Water Quality is Already at Risk
Nitrogen levels in the River are currently more than 600% above the state water quality goal. This encourages algae growth, hurts wildlife, lowers property values, and detracts from the enjoyment of recreational activities on the River.
Nitrogen pollution and oil, gas, and effluent runoff from the Resort and RV Park could worsen existing water problems and create new threats.
Again, Don't Skip the Study
Based on our review, the developers have not submitted the geophysical analysis required by the Comprehensive Plan to determine if the Resort will negatively impact water quality in the aquifer or Rainbow River. All analyses and studies to protect the Rainbow River should be completed prior to any public hearing to change the Comprehensive Plan.
3. Access to East Blue Cove
Enlarged detail from resort proposal
Mr. Gissy is claiming ownership of the submerged lands underneath East Blue Cove and asserting that he has the ability to restrict public access to this portion of the Rainbow River.
The proposal includes plans to close off East Blue Cove to the public to create a "private lagoon" and offer a boat launch, a floating tiki bar, and overnight stays in pontoon boats for the exclusive use of his resort.
East Blue Cove has been a popular recreation spot for more than fifty years. Restricting access to this portion of the Rainbow River for commercial gain goes against Florida case law and takes away from the experience of other recreational users.
The Westgate Resort will increase traffic, delays, and driver frustration in the vicinity of CR 484 and Hendrix Drive, reducing the Level of Service on CR 484 to a “D” or worse. Additional traffic from camping and glamping, a 10-acre parking lot, and additional possible development in the area were not considered and will increase traffic problems in the area.
5. Westgate is the Wrong Developer for Dunnellon
According to the Comprehensive Plan Amendment application, the proposed use of the property is for a “Westgate Resort w/Hotel, Restaurant, & RV Park.” For the past thirty years, Jim Gissy has been employed as the “Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing” for Westgate Resorts.
Westgate Resorts is the largest privately held company in Central Florida. Its primary business line is timeshare resorts. The Orlando Sentinel has reported that Westgate engaged in “intentional and fraudulent conduct”, has been under multiple investigations for violating federal laws, and sued Orange County over a development dispute.
To build the tubing docks for the Resort, Mr. Gissy needs an Environmental Resource Permit. He applied for a commercial dock permit. When his neighbors objected, he changed the application to “personal use” so he could get around the public interest test and ignore their concerns. The Resort plans still include commercial tubing docks.
According to the website glassdoor.com, which allows workers to anonymously rate their employers, only 40% of Westgate employees would recommend a job at Westgate to a friend.
Westgate is the wrong employer for Dunnellon
Westgate and Mr. Gissy are already pushing for land use and zoning changes during a resurgent pandemic without the necessary analyses and studies to protect the Rainbow River, misrepresenting the purpose of two docks in a permit application, and threatening to close off public access to East Blue Cove.
Can we trust Westgate and Mr. Gissy with the future of the Rainbow River and our Community?
What We Can Do
A Ruined Rainbow doesn't
have to be our Future
Here's what you can do
1. Sign up to receive updates.
We'll send you updates and information
about upcoming public meetings.
2. Write the Dunnellon City Council and
Planning Commission - this one's really important
Tell them, in the most personal terms possible, why you oppose the Gissy/Westgate Resort. Use the talking points we provided above but it's important to compose your own personal message. Be sure to let them know if you are a resident of Dunnellon. The button below makes it easy - just click and an email with the email addresses already typed in will open for you. Just include a subject line, compose your own message, and send.
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3. Plan to comment at the Planning Commission and City Council Meetings
Due to COVID-19, dates of meetings and methods for making public comments may change. Be sure you're signed up for our emails because we will share dates and instructions on participating through our email and social media alerts. We'll let you know how to attend and comment with or without physically attending as soon as that information is available. Each speaker is allowed up to 3 minutes to make their comments.
4. Make a donation to support our effort to Stop the Gissy/Westgate Resort.
Donate Online at left
Mail your donation to:
Florida Springs Council
PO Box 268, High Springs, FL 32655
Make checks payable to “Florida Springs Council” and write “Rainbow River” on the ‘for’ line.
For more information contact Florida Springs Council Executive Director Ryan Smart at firstname.lastname@example.org