The Howard County Planning Board yesterday sided with rural residents opposed to using a Daisy home as a retreat center for people who care for critically ill, inner-city children.
It voted 3-1 to recommend to the county Board of Appeals that Terrific, a Washington, D.C., organization that provides housing and services in the inner city for the elderly, the disabled, and critically and terminally ill children, not be allowed to use the 32-acre farm site as a retreat center.
The county Department of Planning and Zoning came to the opposite conclusion Aug. 27.
It said Terrific -- Temporary Emergency Residential Resource Institute for Families in Crisis -- should be granted a special exception in the zoning regulations that would allow it to operate a retreat center, provided it met certain conditions.
The Board of Appeals, which will hear the case Sept. 14, is not bound by either recommendation in deciding the case.
The debate at yesterday's planning board hearing centered on whether Terrific could be trusted to carry out the plans it presented.
Residents, 110 of whom have signed a petition against using the property as a retreat, think more will happen on the property than retreats for up to eight people twice a month.
"I don't believe that's the extent of people who are going to be there," their attorney, Stephen C. Bounds, told the Planning Board. "These people are trained big-time [for so small an enterprise]. . . . They are going to bring who knows who into this community."
He cited as safety concerns the fact that people attending the retreats would be strangers to the community, and the proximity of other homes to the proposed retreat center.
"If people are coming from all over, there is no control," Mr. Bounds said.
"No one can tell me you can be as safe as you are now," said Frances Kohl, the nearest neighbor to the proposed site. She said she fears for her two children, ages 5 and 7, whose clubhouse is 6 feet from the property line. "They can have Ph.D.s and M.D.s -- it doesn't matter. They can't guarantee safety conditions," she said.
Mr. Bounds told the board the house would become the site of an eight-day pool party, not a retreat.
"What is proposed here is more school than retreat center," he said. "The closest thing they could find [to conform to the zoning regulations] is a retreat center. They're going through the back door to get in."
Property values would decline and the retreat center would set a bad precedent because "these things would be springing up all over the place," Mr. Bounds said. "There are a lot of restrictions we could talk about, but it would be an enforcement nightmare."
Board member Joan Lancos, who voted against recommending the Daisy site for a retreat center, said the enforcement issue also had occurred to her.
If the retreat center were to be allowed, a county staff member should inspect the property on a regular basis to ensure that the zoning regulations are being followed, she said.
Board member Cathy Hartman also voted against the proposal, saying she didn't have enough information. She said she would limit the number of retreat participants to fewer than five at a time.
Board member Theodore F. Mariani, who lives across the street from the site, said that if the retreat center is allowed, it should be fenced off from neighbors. He also voted against the proposal.
Dr. Dale Schumacher, who shares his property with the Belmont retreat center near Elkridge, was the only board member in favor of the idea. A separate driveway and fencing would solve many of the problems raised by neighbors, he said.
"It is a social-good kind of issue as well as a land-use kind of issue," he said. In 25 years of sharing his property with Belmont, he raised three children without problems, he said.
Earlier in the hearing, the Rev. Debbie Tate, president of Terrific and pastor of the Daisy United Methodist Church, told the board her group wants to bring up to eight people to the Daisy property twice a month for retreats of eight days or less.
Ms. Tate, who has been a Daisy resident for 12 years, said she would live in the house but would not be conducting the retreats.
Retreat participants would be staff members and volunteers from Terrific's five Washington homes, she said.
The retreat center would offer care-givers a brief respite from their stressful work, Ms. Tate said.
During the retreats, staff would participate in group discussions and receive training, said Joan McCarley, Terrific's vice president.
"All of the reasons for the [Planning Board's] denial were based on speculation and fear of the unknown," said Vincent M. Guida, attorney for Terrific.
"Terrific has no problem living up to specific guidelines," he said. "People think what Terrific is doing [in Washington] is wonderful, but it's the old story, apparently, of 'not in my backyard.' "