Holy Triumph! County leaders bless large-scale Catholic retreat Rick Langenberg

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Even with some vocal dissenters, the religious retreat boom in rural Teller is alive and well.

In an about-face move from a previous meeting in April, the Teller County Commissioners last week unanimously gave the thumbs-up to plans for a nearly 70-acre Catholic religious resort/retreat, with a slew of conditions. The property owner, Mary Guenzel, was seeking a special use permit for the El Tesoro De Los Angeles Retreat Center, located between Woodland Park and Divide near Tranquil Acres. The development is comprised of between five and 10 buildings for overnight and day use, a chapel and a new proposed administrative center. According to county officials, the property owner wanted to “fulfill her vision of creating a Catholic-influenced retreat center on her property where guests can experience spiritual rejuvenation, religious education and emotional renewal in a peaceful natural setting.”

Last summer, the project got hit with a cease and desist order, when Teller officials determined that the property owner’s pursuits exceeded her limitations for agriculturally-zoned land. Teller planners were concerned about the development of an events center. They requested that Guenzel apply for a special use permit under a resort designation.

But the reception this retreat center received was much different than that of the Lodge at Elk Creek in Divide, which recently got verbally torpedoed by county officials, the commissioners and some Divide citizens. The Lodge’s bid for a similar special use permit as a resort and a ministry/non-profit group retreat was staunchly denied in mid-April, with concerns mounting by many residents about the impacts and abundance of largescale resort/retreats in rural Teller. Officials concluded that the Lodge didn’t meet the master plan of the area.

However, the Teller planning staff took a much different stance towards El Tesoro, mainly because of the limited impacts.

Teller County Planner Dan Williams strongly recommended approving the project, citing the fact that it would “have little impact on the citizens of Teller County and no negative impact to adjoining or adjacent property owners… The only noticeable sounds impacts from the retreat center will be an occasional ringing of the chapel’s bell.”

Moreover, Williams stressed that the project wouldn’t feature common recreational activities, such as volleyball, basketball, rock climbing, swimming, fishing and other sports games, associated with a rural resort. He expressed confidence that the El Tesoro plans would merely allow guests an ideal serene environment for “experiencing spiritual rejuvenation, religious education and emotional renewal.” He noted that the development wouldn’t permit any wedding receptions, reunions, or business, government and corporate-level events.

A big plus for the project proponents also was the fact that the applicant immediately complied with a cease and desist order last August and hired professional consultants and engineers to submit the appropriate plans, once county officials determined that problems existed with this pursuit on ag property. The retreat project plans also got the okay of the planning commission.

During last week’s meeting, the project proponents, represented by Tony Perry, president of Park State Bank & Trust and N.E.S. Inc. consulting firm, didn’t have to do much arm-twisting with the commissioners.

Perry explained that Park State is involved with the Mary Guenzel Charitable Trust. Perry read a letter from Guenzel, which outlined her mission. ”God told me to build a retreat,” stated Guenzel in her letter. She maintained that this retreat wouldn’t disturb any adjacent landowners and would be well-maintained. “I do not ever expect it to be in disrepair,” added the property owner.

And when she learned of possible problems with zoning violations last summer, the applicant in her letter stated that she complied immediately with the county’s request and sought to obtain the appropriate permits.

Similar to the stance taken by Williams, Tim Seibert of N.E.S., Inc., didn’t see any adverse impacts from the facilities at the retreat center and its proposed administrative center. He classified the daily trips projected by guests as minimal. “It meets Teller County criteria,” stated Seibert.

And with the proposed day and overnight guests, Siebert said no more than 123 people could occupy the center at one time.
No one spoke in opposition against the retreat center. The commission hearing room was filled with many supporters of the project.

In a prompt manner, the commissioners signed off on the permit request.