Jessica Mathews /

A request to expand a camp property in Genoa Township and add a retreat center has again been turned down.

The proposed “Prophet Elijah Retreat Center” at the Our Lady of the Fields camp, formerly known as Camp Chaldean, was previously recommended for denial by the Planning Commission and the board followed suit on Monday night.

The property is owned by the Chaldean Catholic Church and encompasses 160 acres at the southwest corner of Kellogg and McClements Roads. The church has been seeking to construct a roughly 30,000-square-foot retreat center with a 40-room dormitory for overnight stays and weekend retreats. It totals two stories above ground, with a small walkout basement and would be connected to the existing church building, southwest of Euler Lake.

A large group of residents who live around the property again spoke out against the project last night and urged the board to follow the recommendation for denial. They’ve raised concerns for years about various environmental issues, tree removal, traffic, lighting, and disrupting the rural country atmosphere. Some commented there was no issue with the mission or intent but the project is “the wrong thing at the wrong place”.

Some board members felt the square footage was excessive, the proposed building was not a good fit and perhaps more negotiations were needed.

Treasurer Robin Hunt said her personal feeling was that the project is not consistent with the area. She stated that it is an existing church use but is currently being used as a country camp, which is a perfect fit for where they are. However, Hunt said she felt the addition and almost 30,000-square-feet size was not consistent with the camp that exists today and was way too large for her to consider approval.

Supervisor Bill Rogers supported the project and voted against the denial. He commented that it has been a retreat camp since the 1920’s and noted the residential area did not exist when it was built. Rogers said he felt the project was not obstructive or overbearing and noted the proposed building was still shorter than the existing chapel and they’ve changed some dynamics. He commented that they still have to be good neighbors but was not offended by the proposal.

It was also stated during the meeting that the property could always be developed into housing, which would be more detrimental to the area and neighbors.

The petitioners stressed during the meeting that they are invested in the local community and there is a need for the retreat center, especially for youth to get away and help prevent them from possibly going down the wrong path in life. It was stated that in terms of setbacks and density, they far exceeded zoning requirements and height and have worked within the confines of ordinances and worked to make it a lower building, within topography constraints.

The petitioners also noted that capacity was reduced from initial plans but the square-footage was the needed amount to facilitate up to two groups for retreats. Another factor with the space needed for the building was attributed to bathrooms, which would be ADA-complaint and in each bedroom versus shared facilities.

The project had been before the Planning Commission four times before being denied in March of 2021 in a 3-1 vote.

The Commission ultimately denied the project for various reasons including that it was not consistent with the master plan and the amount of traffic, visitors, lighting, noise and activity associated with the use was not compatible with the character of the general vicinity. Other reasons cited were that the access point on a rural secondary gravel road was not suitable and the overall impacts of the proposed use and activities would be detrimental to the natural environment and public health, safety, and welfare due to excessive traffic, noise, lighting and other nuisances.