Terrific Inc. to hold first retreat at its farmhouse in January Neighbors say nonprofit abuses rules of operation

December 12, 1996|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Officials at Terrific Inc. -- a nonprofit Washington group that cares for children ill with the AIDS virus -- say they will hold their first employee retreat in January at a $655,000 farmhouse the group owns on 32 acres in western Howard County.

The retreat, to held Jan. 6-8, comes two weeks before the expiration of the group's special exception allowing it to hold weekday retreats with up to 10 people at the house on Ed Warfield Road in Daisy, officials at the county's planning and zoning office say.

The group's president, the Rev. Debbie Tate, received a special exception from the Howard County Board of Appeals three years ago.

Since then, neighbors of the property have complained, the group has not had any retreats at the house. Instead, they said, the group has used it to hold weekend gatherings with as many as 20 cars in the driveway -- the type of gatherings not allowed by the special exception.

In March, the county sent Terrific a letter confirming that the group had met other requirements of the exception, including installing a $13,000 gravel driveway and landscaping to buffer the yard from neighbors. The group never responded, officials say.

In a Nov. 19 letter addressed to the appeals board, Tate wrote that "no official retreat activity has taken place as of this date" and requested a renewal of the special exception.

Tate, who is the minister of Daisy United Methodist Church, has not returned repeated phone calls from a Sun reporter.

As long as the group begins holding retreats and no formal complaints are filed, it can maintain its special exception and have it renewed every two years without hearings, says William O'Brien, head of comprehensive planning and zoning for the county.

Last month, Tate bought the property for $655,000 from a Texas company owned by the Countess Albina du Boisrouvray, the European heiress who since 1993 has allowed the charity to use the lavish house and land. The Daisy property is named the Francois Xavier Bagnoud Farm after the son of the countess who died in a plane crash in 1986.

Neighbors complain that the group repeatedly held weekend gatherings at the property, breaking one of the key restrictions placed on it -- that it be used as a retreat.

They cite 10 instances -- ranging from parties to what appeared to be meetings, another prohibited activity -- at the house in the last three years. Some neighbors say they fear the retreat center will disrupt the calm of their rural residential community.

"I'll be curious to see if she [Tate] does actually start using the place for retreats," said a neighbor who asked not to be identified. "She's solicited charitable funds to say she's going to use this for children and to train employees, and now she hasn't done anything with it."

Terrific Inc. -- which stands for Temporary Emergency Residential Resource Institute for Families in Crisis -- was established in 1975 by Tate to provide housing and support services to elderly and disabled people in need. It has founded five "Grandma's Houses" in Washington for children with human immunodeficiency virus.

In the last three years, the 65-employee group has received more than $6 million in public contributions and government grants, according to Internal Revenue Service filings for the last fiscal years. It allocated about $480,000 for the opening of the retreat center in the same period, the IRS filings show.

Pub Date: 12/12/96

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