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Scott Baggerly sits on an oak stump in February while discussing permitting issues he is experiencing at Faith Haven Christian Retreat Center in north Crystal River. Baggerly's attorney says Faith Haven is no longer operating the ropes course and closed the property to non-members.

Faith Haven Christian Retreat Center operates like a business and is open to the public despite the owner’s insistence that it’s not — just as neighbors and Citrus County Code Compliance have said.

But Faith Haven didn’t violate the Land Development Code for which it was cited, a hearing officer ruled Tuesday in dismissing the county’s code case.

“This code section contains no wording respondents have violated and there is no construction, liberal or otherwise, that would permit me to find such,” special master Christian Waugh wrote in his decision, which he read publicly during a special code compliance meeting at the Lecanto Government Building.

While the county ordinance requires an approved site plan for development, it doesn’t include wording that states the site plan must be complied with, Waugh wrote.

Faith Haven owner Preston “Scott” Baggerly said he was pleased with the ruling and would soon request a certificate of occupancy from the county to open a pair of bunkhouses for overnight retreat stays.

Neighbors who complained that the activities brought unwanted traffic and noise to their rural street were dumbfounded with the decision.

“You’re telling me all of this was about whether they have a site plan submitted?” Nancy Wilder asked Waugh.

His reply: “That’s how I read it.”

Baggerly received conditional-use approval in December 2008 for a Christian Retreat Center on property he owns north of Crystal River off U.S. 19. Conditions included that the retreat center would be limited to “passive recreational use, operated by a non profit organization, and open only to bonafide members and guests of such nonprofit organization.”

Since then, Baggerly opened a ropes course and zip line, and advertises it to the public.

During the Feb. 19 code hearing, Baggerly said someone becomes a member when he or she pay to use the course. He said a person may be refused access if he isn’t physically able to participate.

Waugh’s ruling said the facts back the county’s position that the conditional use is being violated.

“The undisputed evidence shows that the property is in fact ‘open to the public’ for commercial purposes,” he wrote. “This conditional use was authorized solely for ‘passive recreational use’ that would be ‘open only to bonafide members and guests of such nonprofit organization.’ The property is not being used (as) it was intended or approved.”

He continued: “Faith Haven Christian Retreat Center Inc., which operates the ziplines and rope courses to the public, states that its purpose is ‘to provide a Christian Camp Retreat for Youth.’ This is not that camp.”

Even with that, though, Waugh said the county’s case was that Faith Haven’s operations of the ropes course and zipline was not reflected on the approved site plan. The county code, he said, stops short of saying the site plan must be followed.

“When other municipalities and counties have imposed site improvement plan restrictions, and then sought to enforce the conditions on approvals, they have passed code sections that say this,” he wrote. “After reviewing the entire LDC, I struggle to find any section requiring compliance with the site improvement plan.”

County Attorney Denise Dymond Lyn said the staff is reviewing Waugh’s order. She said it’s too soon to say if the county will appeal the decision in circuit court.

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.

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