Two sisters who wish to operate a retreat in Daisy for people who care for the terminally ill spent more than two hours defending their program to the county Board of Appeals last night.
"I don't see why it would have any adverse effect on the area. Rather, I think it would complement the area," said the Rev. Debbie Tate, president of Terrific Inc. and pastor of the Daisy United Methodist Church.
Terrific -- Temporary Emergency Residential Resource Institute for Families in Crisis -- is seeking a special exception that would allow it to operate a retreat center on a 32-acre parcel on Ed Warfield Road. The private, nonprofit District of Columbia-based organization provides housing and services for terminally ill inner-city children, the elderly and the disabled.
But many in the audience of about 130 in the George Howard county office building auditorium were residents of the area who oppose the project. The opponents' attorney, Steven C. Bounds, said part of the problem was a lack of information.
"At this point, very few specifics have been disclosed," Mr. Bounds told the board.
Mr. Bounds was chastised by board Chairwoman Evelyn Tanner as he grilled Ms. Tate about plans for the property. She argued that questions such as where the minister and her sister planned to sleep were irrelevant to the zoning issue.
Many opponents have said the property's owner, a Texas-based company that is donating use of the site to Terrific, will turn it into a corporate retreat. Others have complained that the proposal would be a "commercial" use of the property.
In an interview after the testimony, Bob Vechery, who shares a driveway with the Terrific property, said the testimony last night did nothing to allay his concerns.
He said the plan outlined by Ms. Tate last night bore little resemblance to what she told residents at a May 26 community meeting, in which he recalled her saying that the farm would serve not only as a retreat for Terrific's workers, but also as a retreat for sick children and as a place to train care-givers from other countries.
Mr. Vechery said he is concerned that Terrific will implement this earlier, more intense use of the property, rather than the simpler vision presented last night of a retreat for care-givers.
Terrific has gotten mixed signals from county planning authorities.
The Planning Board, which heard testimony Sept. 2, voted 3-1 to recommend that the appeals board deny the special exception. Planning board members expressed concern that restrictions on the property would be difficult to enforce, and that Terrific's representatives had not provided enough information.
The staff of the county Department of Planning & Zoning originally recommended denial of the special exception, citing vagueness of Terrific's plans. But on Aug. 27, after receiving more detailed plans, the department recommended approval, with conditions.
The department said there should be no more than eight people attending retreats, lasting no more than eight days or held more often that twice a month. Also, the department said there should be no corporate board meetings there, no more than three vehicles on the site at one time, and that Terrific should construct a separate driveway.
Ms. Tate said Terrific would have no problem meeting those conditions, but would like to have its board meetings at the retreat.
The board heard only support of the special exception last night.
Opposing testimony will be heard at 7 p.m. on Sept. 23 in the Banneker Room of the George Howard county office building.