Conflict arises over retreat plan Neighbors criticize location, sponsor

August 17, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Daisy resident Frances Kohl is keenly aware of the irony of her situation -- leading the opposition against a cause she would ordinarily support.

An associate professor in the department of special education at the University of Maryland in College Park, she will attend a Planning Board hearing Thursday morning to oppose the use of the house and property next to her home as a place of respite for inner-city people who care for the terminally ill.

"What Terrific does in Washington, D.C., is fantastic," Ms. Kohl said. "But I would have hoped they would have found land zoned for a commercial enterprise rather than a rural conservation area."

Terrific Inc. -- Temporary Emergency Residential Resource Institute for Families in Crisis -- is a private, nonprofit organization that provides housing and services for terminally ill inner-city children, the elderly and the disabled.

The group is seeking a special exception in the zoning regulations that would allow it to operate a retreat center at a Daisy residence on a 32-acre parcel on Ed Warfield Road.

The land is included in the county's farmland preservation program and cannot be developed. A retreat center is one of the permitted special exception uses, however.

The Rev. Debbie Tate, who has been pastor of the Daisy United Methodist Church for the past 12 years and is president of Terrific Inc., plans to live in the house.

She wants to share it once a month with people who are providing long-term care for critically ill family members.

"It is a tremendous burden on families," she said. "They are so involved they have no opportunity to get away. I wanted to use my house as a place where [seven or eight people a month] could relax, reflect, re-engage and receive spiritual support."

In most respects, the Daisy property seems ideal for such a purpose. Bluebird boxes and purple martin houses dot tree-lined fields filled with Queen Anne's lace.

A wooden barn and outbuildings hint at a quieter, gentler era. A kidney-shaped, backyard swimming pool decorated with native rock beckons refreshment.

nTC What makes it less than ideal as far as Ms. Kohl and her neighbors are concerned is the fact that the house planned for a retreat center is so close to their own. The Terrific Inc. house, Ms. Kohl's residence and a neighbor's house share a common driveway.

"The closeness is one of our top concerns," Ms. Kohl said. "If it were on a 200-acre farm, it could be self-contained. Even if it were at the far end [of the 32-acre parcel] it would be different, but it is so close -- 150 feet from my front door. My children's clubhouse is six feet from the property line."

Until now her children, aged 5 and 7, and a neighbor's children, aged 2 and 4, have had moderate supervision, Ms. Kohl said.

"If it's a retreat center, people are going to be working around," as well as driving to and from the property, she said.

If it were just Terrific Inc., Ms. Kohl might not have a problem with Ms. Tate's plans for a retreat center, but the fact that the property is owned by Mountain States Pecan Corp. of Dallas is unsettling, Ms. Kohl said.

She and her neighbors worry that if a special exception for a retreat center is granted, the out-of-state owner could keep the designation and perhaps use the property for corporate meetings or as a corporate headquarters if Terrific Inc. were no longer the tenant.

"It's very disconcerting when you find out how unknown they are," she said.

"I am not a stranger," Ms. Tate said. "I am a person, a reverend -- an ordained minister within a mainline Protestant church that is not a cult or affiliated with a cult. I am not self-ordained. I have rules and regulations I must obey. I am a person under authority, not a maverick."

As for the property owner, Ms. Tate described the Texas company as "a benevolent private donor" who has helped underwrite Terrific's Washington expenses and is helping fund the retreat plans.

"If ownership is a problem, we can work around that," she said. "The owners are very cooperative."

Ms. Tate said she is concerned that Ms. Kohl and her neighbors held a meeting last Friday without anyone from Terrific Inc. present.

In late May, Terrific Inc. had invited nearby residents to "a small buffet to make our intentions known," Ms. Tate said. "We were as open and honest as could be and when people left, we had a feeling of accomplishment . . .

"Maybe a week later, we were told some people had 'rethought the idea' and were very disturbed -- afraid that having care givers here will detract from the residential environment."

Residents are circulating a petition saying that the request by Terrific Inc., to convert the private, single-family residence is a misuse of land preservation legislation and disregards the property rights of neighborhood property owners.

The fact that residents "had a meeting and we were never invited doesn't sound like they really want to communicate with people trying to be agreeable," Ms. Tate said.

The fact that Terrific Inc. deals with children, some of whom have acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and the fact that some people who work with those children would be coming to the retreat setting is what is really worrying people, Ms. Tate said. "They think we're going to bring AIDS to their community. It's so sad."

Ms. Kohl said neighbors are concerned that the property is owned by an out-of-state corporation and that retreat center appears to be a commercial enterprise.

The Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the request Thursday morning.

Afterward, it will make a recommendation to the Board of Appeals, which will decide the case after holding a public hearing on Sept. 14.

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