Retreat center in Daisy approved Residents had opposed zoning exception

November 03, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

A group that cares for the terminally ill last night won approval from the Howard County Board of Appeals to operate a retreat center for caregivers on a farm in Daisy.

The board placed strict conditions on the special exception to zoning regulations it granted Washington-based Terrific Inc., including limiting retreats to two weeks a month and participants to eight.

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

The center will be called the Francois Xavier Bagnoud Farm after the late son of the woman who donated use of the property to Terrific.

The group has said it will run the center mainly inside a house on the edge of a 32-acre property on Ed Warfield Road that has been placed in the county's agricultural preservation program.

The conditions imposed last night were intended in part to satisfy neighbors' concerns and make it easier for zoning authorities to respond to complaints about activities outside the scope of the zoning exception.

"There are a lot of restrictions, but I think that is to be expected when there is a lot of built-in fear of the unknown you haven't been able to dispel," said the Rev. Debbie Tate, president of Terrific and pastor of Daisy United Methodist Church. "I think we just have a lot of work to do to ease some of the fears -- to go in as healers rather than wounders."

Area residents overwhelmingly opposed the center, worrying that it would be used more intensely than Terrific had indicated to the board and would mar the rural character of the neighborhood.

Terrific was repeatedly criticized by opponents for announcing one plan to neighbors and the group's contributors, and another the board.

Terrific's literature said that the farm would house an "international training center" and provide respite for children suffering from AIDS. The group's petition for a special exception, however, limited the property's use to a retreat center for caregivers.

"It appears thus far that the board's minds were made up before they got in here," said Ron Reis, whose home faces the farmhouse that will house the retreat center.

Mr. Reis said the experience has taught him the significance of anti-government protests he participated in as a young man.

"It doesn't seem like the system addresses the issues. They don't care that people here lied outright, and I find that amazing," he said.

Three of the five board members favored the proposed facility, while two said it would create an adverse impact on three neighboring houses clustered next to a gravel lane.

Board member James Caldwell argued that the retreat center "degrades the character of what one assumes is . . . a residential neighborhood."

He said that he would probably feel differently about it if retreat participants did not stay overnight.

Board member Margaret Rutter said she concurred with Mr. Caldwell's objections to the facility but did not believe the board had a legal basis to deny the special exception.

The conditions placed upon the center included:

* Limiting retreats to two weeks a month, beginning at 6 p.m. on the first and third Sunday, and ending at 5 p.m. the following Friday.

* Gaining the approval of the board that governs the agricultural preservation program.

* Building a separate gravel driveway.

* Limiting retreat participants to eight people, including one coordinator, at a time.

Last night's decision at a board work session in the George Howard county office building in Ellicott City came after three hearings on the retreat center proposal. The first night of the hearing attracted more than 100 people, most of them Daisy residents opposed to the center. Even County Councilman Charles C. Feaga testified that the center would be incompatible with the agricultural preservation program.

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