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Planners delay decision on spiritual retreat permit

By Linwood Outlaw III - loutlaw@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Several residents' concerns about traffic and transient guests prompted the Warren County Planning Commission to delay action Wednesday night on a request from two local residents to operate a spiritual retreat center.

The Rev. Ingrid L. Jolly-Trayfors and Dr. Miles E. McCord Jr. have applied for a conditional-use permit to run the retreat center on their 28-acre, agriculturally zoned property at 114 Kendall Court in the Shenandoah District. Such centers are defined by the county's zoning ordinance as a facility that offers "refuge, seclusion and privacy for the purpose of rest, meditation and/or religious exercises."

Jolly-Trayfors said the retreat center, at least in its beginning stages, would serve one client at a time by appointment only.

During a public hearing held by the Planning Commission, however, all seven people who spoke said they were against Jolly-Trayfors' proposal, citing concerns such as increased traffic, unknown people roaming around their property and potentially higher road maintenance costs due to more traffic.

State transportation officials have said Jolly-Trayfors' proposal would have little impact on Va. 659, which would provide access to the property. Highway officials said access is off a private road and does not appear to generate much additional traffic. Nonetheless, some neighbors view the proposed retreat center as a threat to their privacy and tranquil, rural surroundings and worry about disruptions to what is described as a close-knit community.

A letter sent to planning and zoning officials earlier this month by two of Jolly-Trayfors' neighbors, James and Deborah Reinemann, summarized the general concerns expressed by residents at Wednesday's hearing. In their letter, the Reinemanns say they purchased their home on Heights Lane "because of the pristine natural area and the solitude that comes with living in the woods," and that a retreat center could alter their comfortable environment.

"We purposely chose to live here because of the sparse population and quiet nature of this area," the letter says. "An increase in traffic and people that a retreat [center] would bring would negate our whole purpose for living here."

The Planning Commission unanimously voted Wednesday night to postpone action on the retreat center proposal and reconsider provisions that were recommended for the permit. Jolly-Trayfors said the biggest misconception about her proposal is that the retreat center will be a commercial venture, and she reiterated at Wednesday's hearing that it is not intended for such purposes and will primarily be open to her students.

Jolly-Trayfors founded Avillion, a Delaware corporation, in 1994 to provide spiritual, cultural, charitable and literary education. She offers those services at health and wellness expos and other establishments throughout the mid-Atlantic region, including a healing arts center in Leesburg. Jolly-Trayfors explained in a statement of justification that she wants to offer holistic services from her home base in Warren County "to cut down on traveling cost, be more efficient and upon popular demand."

Jolly-Trayfors pitched the retreat center as part of a three-stage project that involves offering services like aura imaging and photography, lifestyle coaching, and spiritual counseling, as well as meditation and energy work similar to Reiki practices. During the first phase, Jolly-Trayfors said she plans to use rock formations and gardens for a natural healing center. The other two stages, which will depend on grant funding, would involve establishing gazebos and other forms of shelter for clients.

However, Planning Commission Chairman Mark Bower said he was unsettled that the retreat center concept did not earn a single vote of confidence from neighbors who spoke at the hearing. Bower also expressed concern that hunting in the area would create an unsafe environment for Jolly-Trayfors' clients.

Planning Commission Chairman Victor Failmezger, meanwhile, said he thinks Jolly-Trayfors' proposal may be too broad or "open-ended" for her neighbors to fully support. Planners have recommended that the retreat center host not more than six people at a time, although there is still some uncertainty about the length of stay.

The Planning Commission can only recommend action on the request, and final approval must come from the Board of Supervisors, which would be required to hold another public hearing on the matter prior to their vote.

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