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Christian ministry seeks permit for retreat center

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A local nonprofit Christian ministry wants to launch a $1.5 million, nondenominational, cabin-oriented retreat center on 98 acres west of Columbus.

The city Board of Zoning Appeals today will consider a request for a conditional use permit from Andy and Denise Robison on behalf of 2 Tim 3:16 Leaders Ministries Inc.

The couple want to build three to five one-bedroom, one-bath cabins — each 1,000 square feet or less — on the property zoned for agricultural use at 7162 W. State Road 46, behind Nienaber’s Farm Market in Harrison Township.

The projected cost includes purchase of the property, Andy Robison said.

The grounds already include a house, a 3-acre lake, one small cabin and a barn that could become a meeting center, property owner Brent Clifford said.

Clifford and his wife, Tracey Clifford, live on the site but would move if they sell the parcel, which is zoned for agriculture. It is near the western edge of the city’s planning jurisdiction.

“We think it’s a beautiful property and see this as a great cause,” Brent Clifford said.

The project has been recommended for preliminary approval by the City of Columbus-Bartholomew County Planning Department, provided that no stay be longer than two weeks over a six-month period and that septic system approval be given prior to cabin construction.

But one adjacent property owner has expressed several concerns, such as retreat traffic and noise, in a letter to the zoning board.

Janeen Blomenberg said she is worried, for example, about how much clearing will be done on the land and how that will impact the wildlife in the area.

“The deer, racoons and wild turkeys that are seen daily will be forced to relocate,” Blomenberg wrote.

She said that could mean more wildlife for her to deal with on her own property.

She also is concerned about how the center could affect property values. Plus, she wonders about what she called “uninvited visitors,” that is, retreat center guests who might not realize where the wooded center property ends and her wooded land begins. She called that a liability issue.

Andy Robison said his wife first envisioned a donation-only retreat center, especially for clergy struggling with issues such as burnout and needing rejuvenation. They both also believe such a center could offer what they call “a simple getaway” for individuals and couples needing a quiet place for Christian reflection and Scripture study.

Robison said he and his wife would seek at least partial help from a grant to purchase the property if zoning officials decide in his favor. Ideally, sometime in the future, the Robisons would like to seek some monthly financial support for the planned center from area churches.

“But we haven’t really done a whole lot of marketing at this point,” Andy Robison said.

Robison said that, if the conditional use permit is granted, his timetable is still somewhat uncertain.

“It depends on how quickly we can raise the money we need,” he said.

Their idea is that those enjoying a retreat would have breakfast and lunch on their own and then join together at a center building each day for a shared supper and Christian fellowship.

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