Residents of Case Road worried about the development of a religious organization

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On Case Road, in a rural area of ​​Thurston County near Littlerock, “people look out for each other,” said Tracy Rindone and Jennifer Lyne, who have each lived in the area for over 15 years.

About 14 houses are in the area, Rindone told The Olympian, most of which are adjacent to farmland.

In 2016, a religious organization called Youth With a Mission Faith Harvest Helpers (JEM-FHH) purchased approximately 30 acres in the neighborhood. And, true to what Rindone and Lyne told The Olympian, the neighbors were careful.

On its general website, YWAM describes itself as “a global movement of Christians of many cultures, age groups and Christian traditions dedicated to serving Jesus around the world” with over 1,100 locations in over 180 countries.

JEM-FHH, in particular, describes itself online as being located in the Pacific Northwest, with food banks at Case Road and Lacey. In a video on YWAM-FHH website, Executive Director Paul Shorb describes the vision of the Case Road campus as “to transform it into a YWAM base”.

When The Olympian visited the JEM-FHH site for comment, an employee relayed a message from Shorb that he would not comment at this time.

From her home on a hill above the property, Rindone began to see activity in the first year that concerned her: she said she saw dirt moved in this barred stream and flooded the road. of private gravel that she uses to reach her cows. She has seen six semi-trailers move into the property, an existing mobile home demolished, and many small buildings begin to appear.

Lyne said she was concerned when she reviewed the organization’s plans for online property.

Projects listed on the YWAM-FHH website include the transformation of donated RVs into mini-homes for “staff housing and other purposes”. In his 2017 annual report, Shorb wrote that the organization receives surplus fish from the state which is distributed, frozen, through the food bank and other local feeding programs, and that the salmon from the tribes local products are canned and shipped worldwide.

Its website also advertises a discipleship-training school for those 18 and over, which costs approximately $ 5,600, with a residential “conference phase” at the Case Road location.

Lyne told The Olympian that she believes the Faith Harvest Helpers have “done a tremendous job with the Olympia food bank and raising awareness to help the poor and hungry around the world,” but there are concerns about development. .

“As we start to see things happening there, we say, ‘It’s not used for agriculture,’” Rindone said, referring to the area’s zoning.

According to county data, the property is zoned as “RRR 1/5” meaning one dwelling unit is allowed per five acres. The “RRR” stands for “Rural Residential / Resource”.

The county ordinances code chapter on this type of zoning states that its purpose is “to encourage residential development that maintains the rural character of the county” and “is sensitive to the physical characteristics of the site”, among other qualities.

The way YWAM-FHH uses the land, neighbors say, does not line up.

Rindone and Lyne say JEM-FHH operated an RV park, school, and office on the property without the proper permits, and the organization ignored wetland buffer zones intended to protect the Spotted Frog from Oregon, endangered.

“The main problem is that Thurston County has designated certain areas for farmland and agriculture, and it is not being respected,” Rindone said.

The neighbors therefore expressed their concerns to the county.

The development of YWAM-FHH caught the county’s attention in 2016 when a neighbor called to report land use violations, according to a report compiled by Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) staff. of Thurston County. Then “county staff from various departments” visited the site and briefed the owners on the regulations and permits. Later that year, according to the report, the county discovered that construction and land use violations were ongoing.

“Based on complaints from neighbors, site visits and aerial photos, at any given time there are up to eight RVs with people living there, several shipping containers and mobile homes in various states of deconstruction. The report says. “According to the Faith Harvest Helpers website, these structures are used to house volunteers, permanent residents, and to process and canning fish.

According to the staff report, the property contains a creek and wetlands, and a wetland buffer zone envelops “most of the site.” An existing mobile home on the property was allowed to be replaced, according to the report, but other buildings were not allowed. JEM-FHH requested a reasonable use exception for the after-the-fact authorization of three structures on the property, according to the report.

“The approvals were not granted for the development that took place,” said Brett Bures, director of development services at CPED. “RUE (Reasonable Use Exception) is an afterthought approach to trying to achieve compliance. “

A Hearing Examiner hearing was scheduled for August 27 to consider JEM-FHH’s application. It was postponed at the request of the organization, and a new date has not been set.

Rindone said around 20 people from the area were scheduled to testify.

This story was originally published September 3, 2019 12:00 a.m.

Sara Gentzler joined The Olympian in June 2019 as a county and court reporter. She now covers the Washington State Government for The Olympian, The News Tribune, The Bellingham Herald, and Tri-City Herald. She holds a BA in Journalism from Creighton University.


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