Archive for Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Retreat center faces opposition

October 24, 2001

A controversial Leavenworth County retreat center could face a possible stumbling block in renewing its special-use permit.

On Thursday, Oct. 25, the Leavenworth County Commission will decide whether to renew the special-use permit for Camp Gaea, a 168-acre campground 10 miles north of Tonganoxie, located at 25110 235th Street.

In the past, the camp has hosted such groups as the Midwest Male Naturist Gathering, a gathering of male nudists, and the Heartland Pagan Festival.

The campground, which started in the 1940s as a nudist colony and later in the 1950s was home to a Baptist church, has drawn public opposition because of activities that some find morally objectionable.

"By looking on the Internet, there are some groups coming in there that don't fit the character of this community," Leavenworth County resident H.B. Heim said. "We are concerned that some of the actions will spill over into our community."

Heim and other county residents have been instrumental in circulating a petition to give to the county commissioners expressing their displeasure with the campground.

Reportedly, more than 300 people have already signed the petition.

Leavenworth County resident Aaron Hecht, whose property borders the campground, said he also hoped the commissioners would deny the request for the special-use permit.

Hecht, citing traffic problems on 235th Street as well as moral objections to the campground, said he would rather see a different organization utilize the campground.

"Yeah, I would like to see that permit taken away so they couldn't have all these groups come in," Hecht said. "I would like to see a church or something in there instead of this perversion."

And while several residents find the campground offensive, Camp Gaea caretaker Wanda Roths said she sees no problem with the camp.

"Not at all," she said. "I raised four children and I am also a grandmother and I can't understand what they are so up in arms about."

Roths, who has lived on the site for three years, said campground representatives would be in attendance at the County Commission meeting Thursday to present their side of the story.

"I don't know if it will be a demonstration, but we are going to be there to stick up for our rights," she said.

Whether the campground will gain a renewed permit remains unanswered, although the camp has already received one set back.

On Oct. 10, the Leavenworth County Planning Commission voted 5 to 2, recommending the commissioners not approve the camp's special-use permit.

Leavenworth Planning Commission member John Matthews, who also serves on the Basehor Planning Commission, was one of the two that voted to approve the campground permit.

"It was primarily because the argument against (the campground) was a moral argument and not a legal argument, and I don't feel we can legislate morality," he said.

Although the Planning Commission recommended the campground be denied approval, Matthews said it is anyone's guess how the commissioners will vote.

The commissioners will no doubt face several constitutional issues when deciding what action to take on the campground.

Leavenworth County Commissioner Joe Daniels said he wasn't sure how the vote would turnout on Thursday.

"I don't know what to expect," he said. "We haven't gotten real deep into it yet. It is a complex thing and there are first amendment issues we have to deal with."

A consideration the commissioners must deal with is what their constituents want and what the law will allow.

Should the commissioners reject the special use permit, Daniels said the county could be open to possible civil litigation.

While the commissioners review the legal situation regarding the rights of the campground, Heim said he is wondering who is protecting his rights.

"They talk about constitutional rights but where are our rights," he said. "We are the majority and in a democracy the majority is supposed to rule."

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