After hearing much opposition from neighbors during a public hearing on the matter and having much concerns of their own, Halifax County Board of Supervisors tabled a request for a conditional use permit to operate a Christian ministry.
Bob West of West Investment Niche, Inc. applied to operate a ministry at 1161 Arthur Ware Trail that targets U.S. veterans and troubled youth to provide temporary housing, wildlife adventures and biblical teaching.
Supervisors tabled the matter at a 6 to 1 vote with ED-6 supervisor Stanley Brandon voting in opposition and ED-8 supervisor William Bryant Claiborne absent.
Prior to the public hearing, West addressed the board to explain the ministry saying he would be inviting U.S. veterans and troubled youth to retreat to the property free of charge.
His plan is to build 40,000 square feet on the property over the next two years. Currently, there are two paid full-time staff on the property trying to get the property ready, said West.
He hopes to bring in two to four veterans in August, and hopes to have the property fully built out by the end of December 2022 and go into full-scale operations by January 2023.
Ideally, he said, he would start out with cabins for a troubled boy’s section, then he would return to request to build a troubled girl’s section.
According to his application, he plans to have four bunkhouses for youth, four for veterans and housing for around 40 staff, a dining hall, a worship center and bath houses.
Answering a question from ED-5 supervisor Dean Throckmorton, he said attendees would be there 24/7 for at least a week.
West said they plan to show troubled youth “parental-like love” while letting them as well as veterans use the property.
“We’re going to have a lot of activities for them to do… nobody will get bored. But, the main goal is to minister to them. We’re going to show them the ultimate solution to their problems is God, the father and Jesus, the son. It’s simple as that,” said West.
Throckmorton and ED-2 supervisor Jeff Francisco noted that there is already a behavioral complex for youth in the county, and they said the Halifax County Sheriff’s Department and fire department spends a lot of man-hours there for individuals misbehaving or trying to leave the property.
“They will not be allowed to leave the property, not unless they want to leave permanently,” West responded.
Throckmorton then responded saying, “They’re not allowed to leave this other place too, but they do. That’s the point I’m trying to make.”
West said he plans to have four cabins for the troubled boys with 10 boys in each cabin and two adults in each cabin. He also plans to have security cameras and a guard shack at the entrance of the property that will be manned 24/7.
Francisco called the current behavioral facility a “very structured place,” but said they still deal with a lot of trouble.
The ED-2 supervisor also noted that he lives on a large piece of land with his wife and four children, and “I would be worried if you were coming next door.
“I’m kind of okay with the veteran side of it… but this seems a little too loose, little bit shooting from the cuff. I’m not totally okay with it. I would like to see more structure, more qualified instructors. I’m a little uncomfortable with it,” said Francisco.
West replied saying, “If they break a rule, they’re going back home. This is not just some rambunctious big mess. This is going to be organized.”
ED-7 supervisor and vice chairman Garland Ricketts asked West would he be screening participants, and West said he plans to screen participants, staff and volunteers.
He said they would apply, and he would screen them.
“We will pray about it, and if we feel in our heart yes, this is a right fit then we invite potential invitee to come to the property,” West added. He also noted that he would not allow any one adult alone with a child.
ED-1 supervisor Ricky Short questioned if West was planning on bringing in professionals, if he has a business plan, if the ministry is connected to any specific denomination, and if he had talked to his neighbors about his plan.
West said he did plan on bringing in some professionals, but was hoping to get volunteers, and that he does not have a business plan yet. He also said it was not connected to any specific domination, just Christian, and that he does not have a theological degree, and he had not yet talked to the neighbors.
Short noted that he did receive two negative letters from neighbors regarding the application.
ED-6 supervisor Stanley Brandon told West “it sounds like your heart is in the right place,” but he had some concerns as well.
“It feels risky,” said Brandon. “This type of stuff has potential for problems… I do think it would be most beneficial to have conversations with neighbors. This is most definitely a good thing that you want to focus on it but for me personally, I think you’re going to need a lot of help but when you don’t know where it’s coming from, its going to put you in a pickle.”
The applicant then pointed to his friend in attendance, Scott Walker, who is a retired 20-year U.S. Navy Veteran, who West said could help with the troubled veterans.
But Brandon questioned what certifications Walker had to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Real life experience,” West responded. “Someone who has a certification for lets say troubled youth… no psychologist or physiatrist is going to understand a troubled youth unless they’ve been a troubled youth.”
But, Brandon said from a legal aspect, not having certifications increases West’s “liability tremendously.”
West reiterated while participants would receive some professional counseling while there their main focus was leading participants to Jesus.
Chairman and ED-3 supervisor Hubert Pannell offered another concern as well. In the planning commission minutes, Pannell pointed out that West said he needed to raise $5 million in the next two years.
“I just don’t know how in the world $5 million is going to come to you in the next two years,” said Pannell.
West said he had met a guy, Ted Gibson, who’s daughter worked with the late Doris Buffett who handled Warren Buffet’s philanthropy, and she plans to draw up paperwork and go to organizations to try to get the money.
Brandon took the floor again to restate his concerns saying, “Forgive me, but I don’t know how you’re going to build property when you don’t know what your intentions are.”
Several neighbors also spoke in opposition to the proposal.
Adjoining neighbors Kaitlyn and Arthur Cole spoke in opposition with Kaitlyn saying, “I think it just feels too risky…I think he has great intentions. I am a Christian myself, but it’s not the location… I know a lot of my neighbors don’t agree with this either. I am 100% opposed.”
Arthur went on to speak of children walking the road saying, “I couldn’t imagine inviting people down here who we don’t even know and those little girls walking up and down the road.”
Another neighbor, Andrew Slagle, said his children play on the border of West’s property, and he urged supervisors to give the request a lot of thought.
Brian Hugh told supervisors he doesn’t see any experience being brought to the operations, and had concerns about traffic flow and security.
Kenny Lewis offered concerns about the logistics of it, security and having a proper business plan.
Supervisor Ricketts then took the floor following the hearing suggesting they could add conditions to the conditional use permit in hopes of easing neighbor’s mind that would prohibit West from allowing any participant, staff member or volunteer who has been charged or convicted of a violent or sexual crime on the property.
He also suggested after four years of the issuance of an occupancy certification that the status of the conditional use permit return to the sitting board of supervisors for evaluation for continuance and also have the applicant show adequate proof of liability insurance.
County administrator Scott Simpson told the board he would look into what items they could legally put into a CUP.