Millers home approved for spiritual retreat center Opponents cited 'threat to security'

October 27, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

The Board of Zoning Appeals has approved the use of a Millers home for a spiritual retreat center run by three Catholic nuns.

At a hearing yesterday in Westminster, the three-member zoning appeals board unanimously decided that the proposed center on 3.2 acres at 4800 Hoffmanville Road would have "no adverse effects on the neighborhood."

The board granted variances to the minimum required lot area of 5 acres and 100-foot setback from adjoining properties. The nearest residence is about 80 feet from the property line.

Should the Franciscan nuns decide to sell the home, the variances would not be inherited by future owners.

Although several neighbors voiced their support for the proposed center, four residents opposed its opening and feared it would attract alcoholics, drug abusers or former prisoners.

Sister Eileen Quinn tried to set their minds at rest.

"This will be a spiritual retreat house to help people of all faiths on their journey with God," she said. "It will appeal basically to religious people, and its thrust will be purely ecumenical."

Bryan White of Falls Road welcomed "the sisters but not the variances."

"A constant flow of strangers into the neighborhood could pose a threat to our safety, security and sense of well-being," he said.

Gene Winemiller, who lives next to the proposed center, delivered an opposing petition with 94 signatures from residents who live within a two-mile area.

"A retreat house is not compatible with the area," he said. "There would be a constant flow of people of all types."

Sister Eileen, a doctoral candidate in spiritual studies, said she lacked the skills to help "people in transition" but would "redirect those in need appropriately." She does not anticipate many encounters with needy people in her new ministry.

"People trying to get in touch with their spiritual lives are not usually struggling for basic needs," she said.

James N. Phillips, a Baltimore attorney representing the nuns, objected to the petition, saying he could not cross-examine its signers.

The board sustained his objection.

"I know there is fear in the community about who is coming to the center," said Mr. Phillips. "Who here can guarantee his guests are not alcoholics?

"These nuns do not want to be bad neighbors. For the most part, this place will have fewer people than most households."

The sisters said they had no objection to limiting the number of their guests.

The attorney called the center "a new mission for the Franciscan order," whose members have worked in Baltimore for 125 years and cared for orphans, the developmentally disabled and battered women.

The order is purchasing the house and will support the new retreat center for adults. Participants will be asked for contributions.

Sister Eileen, one of three nuns who will live in the 3-year-old, 3,400-square-foot home, said the center will offer an opportunity for people to "integrate a spiritual dimension into their lives."

"We chose this site for its beauty and quiet," she said. "We wish to enjoy and keep up that beauty, and thank God for it."

The four-bedroom, three-bath house will have a small chapel, a quiet room and a group meeting area.

The nuns plan to complete the above-ground basement and add a deck.

Settlement is scheduled for next week. The nuns hope to move in in early December and begin the daylong retreats for "no more than two people at a time" in January. They plan to advertise the center through pamphlets to local churches.

"We are offering a place to pray, reflect, get in touch with your heart and restore hope," said Sister Eileen.

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