Mount Airy man wants retreat center approval


A Mount Airy man wants to operate a retreat and conference center for corporate, religious and educational groups on his property on West Falls Road.

James J. Sweet has proposed opening a center at West Falls Farmstead in the 5600 block of West Falls Road for "occasional" retreats. West Falls Road is a half-mile west of Route 27 near Buffalo Road.

"I live out there. I don't want events going on out there every weekend," he said.

Half the 22-acre property is woodland. The land, which is zoned for conservation, also has a 1,500-square-foot pavilion and two ponds. Mr. Sweet lives in a 1,100-square-foot log house there.

"The serene woodlands, rustic pavilion and relaxed surroundings JTC create a wonderful atmosphere," according to a plan filed with the county.

The Board of Zoning Appeals will hear Mr. Sweet's request for a special exception to operate the center at a hearing at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 28 in Room 07 of the County Office Building.

Mr. Sweet said professional and corporate groups could use the pavilion for informal meetings, educational groups could use the property for field trips or religious groups could use it for retreats.

The property would not be open to the public, and no one would stay overnight, he said. The property would have portable bathrooms.

Events would be scheduled May through October. Food and drink would be brought in by caterers.

Mr. Sweet is part-owner of Smokey Glen Farm, a Gaithersburg catering company that mostly serves corporate picnics and events. He said the center would not be connected to the catering business.

The West Falls Road property was planned as a retreat center and was used by a Chevy Chase car dealership for annual meetings and picnics, Mr. Sweet said. His family has owned the land since 1977.

The pavilion, built in 1950, needs renovation, he said.

Mr. Sweet said he did not know what size groups would use the property.

"I don't anticipate any real large groups out there," he said.

Mr. Sweet said he sent letters explaining his plan to 14 adjacent landowners.

"If they have any questions, I do hope they give me a call," he said.

The file outlining his plan is available to the public at the Office of Administrative Hearings on the first floor of the County Office Building.

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