Retreat center opponents hold forth

September 24, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

Daisy residents presented documents to the Zoning Board last night that they claimed were proof that planners of a %J proposed retreat center for people who care for the terminally ill had lied about the project.

Presenting one document to the board, which gave instructions on how the farmhouse on the 32-acre parcel was to be decorated, neighbor Greta VanSusteren said it "completely undermines the credibility" of statments made by the Rev. Debbie Tate, Terrific's president and pastor of the Daisy United Methodist Church.

"It says what they're planning to do with the property. It's different than what they've been telling people," said Ms. VanSusteren, who won the applause of most of the 90 or so people attending the hearing in Ellicott City's George Howard county office building.

Terrific -- Temporary Emergency Residential Resource Institute for Families in Crisis -- is seeking a special exception that would allow it to operate a retreat center on a 32-acre parcel on Ed Warfield Road.

The private, nonprofit organization is based in the District of Columbia, and provides housing and services for terminally ill inner-city children, the elderly and the disabled.

The document that Ms. VanSusteren produced was a copy of Terrific's 1992 annual report, which described the purpose of the Daisy property -- called the Francois Xavier Bagnoud Farm, for the son of the woman who donated the property to the organization.

The report said the farm would serve as a retreat for sick children, their families and caregivers, and as an international training center.

"You can't put AIDS children out on this property. It's going to affect property values, and it's going to be cruel to the children," Mrs. VanSusteren said, explaining that they would be isolated from hospitals and rescue services.

Ms. VanSusteren said she could not accept the center, even with restrictions recommended by county planners, because the retreat center would still be "commercial property with 180 transients" allowed to visit there each year.

"Everybody has told me that your house isn't worth a nickel if you're going to have transients," Ms. VanSusteren said.

Asked by board member George Layman if she had received professional advice to that effect, she replied that a real estate agent had said the Terrific proposal would lower the value of her property.

"I wish the Realtor that told you that had some moral

responsibility, because I think that's called redlining," said Mr. Layman, referring to a type of racial discrimination in real estate transactions.

Terrific's organizers are black. Most opponents of the project are white.

Opponents began their testimony with an unusual witness -- County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a Republican who represents western Howard. Vincent Guida, Terrific's attorney, objected to the testimony on the grounds that as a member of the body that appoints board members, Mr. Feaga had a conflict of interest.

Mr. Feaga testified that the retreat center was not appropriate for the FXB Farm because it had been protected from development. All but one acre of the site is excluded from development -- the site of a farmhouse where Terrific's retreats would be held.

The hearing will continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the George Howard building.

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