Retreat zoning appeal planned

'Rustic center' is denied approval by examiner

Driveway buffer space is barrier

July 09, 2002|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Every year residents of tiny Dayton parade on decorated floats to the out-of-the-way home of Bette Hoover for a community picnic.

Hoover is hoping to invite more people to her western Howard home in the future. She wants to transform the 22-acre property into a weekend retreat, a place for groups looking to commune with nature.

Hoover, who owns the land with two others, said the idea is low-tech and no frills. She envisions a small addition to her house to accommodate overnight visitors. No outdoor lighting would be installed.

"It's a rustic center; we're not looking to build condominiums with a private bath for everyone," said Hoover, who works as a conflict resolution and anger management trainer. "People will need to be very willing to be close with the earth and find ways to use the least amount of things when they're there."

Apart from the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge, zoning officials can't think of another overnight retreat in the county.

Going from dream to reality won't be as simple as Hoover had hoped because the sizable parcel is behind other properties and connects to Green Bridge Road via a narrow panhandle driveway.

Thomas P. Carbo, the county's hearing examiner, reluctantly denied her "conditional use" request last week because there is not enough land between the driveway and the adjoining homeowners to meet county minimums.

"Unfortunately, I do not have a choice in this issue," he told Hoover. "It's a requirement I can't change. ... Otherwise, the property is very suitable."

He recommended she buy some land from neighbors to widen the driveway buffer. She said she will appeal to the county Board of Appeals instead.

"If a law doesn't make sense, it needs to be changed," Hoover said.

She said the retreat - which would be called Eden Valley - would take in groups of up to 35 people from April to October. She said the center's mission would be to promote responsible and environmentally friendly social change and is interested only in visitors with such goals.

"We're not offering anything for the masses," she said.

Hoover intends to continue living on the property, but would give up part of her home - a former campgrounds pavilion - for retreat use. Plans call for overnight space for 20 people, and she said visitors would sleep in bunk beds and use dry compost toilets.

"We have to be very aware of how we preserve the environment in Howard County; it's really very precarious," she said. "We hope our little 22 acres will be an example of how the land can be preserved."

Some neighbors are just learning of the proposal and don't know yet what to think. But they have fond memories of the annual picnic, which draws several hundred people.

Patsy Bryan, who has lived in Dayton for 34 years, was glad to hear that Hoover intends to continue playing host to the event.

"She's been so generous to let us use her place each year," Bryan said.

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