'Dream Camp' land use argued

The Register-Guard/October 29, 1999
By Joe Mosley

There were back-and-forth accusations that a California dentist has carried out a meddlesome smear campaign and that his estranged 22-year-old son has been brainwashed.

There were those who spoke of a New Age group's loving respect for its land and the invaluable nature experience it offers professionals in the healing arts.

Whitewind Fisher

And others who described rule-bending and pushy acts of bad-neighborliness.

In the end, though, this was a simple land use hearing.

And as Lane County Hearings Official Milo Mecham explained to participants in Thursday's two-hour session, his decision on whether to grant a temporary use permit for an annual "World Dream Camp" at a 60-acre farm on Upper Camp Creek Road northeast of Springfield will be based solely on whether organizers have met legal criteria.

"We're not blazing any new trails here," said land use consultant Al Couper, who is working for self-described shaman Whitewind Fisher and her Friends Landing International Centers for Conscious Living.

Fisher, along with her husband, Ben, and her mother, Barbara Kilborne, have submitted a revised application for a permit that would allow Dream Camp participants to stay on their property for two weeks each summer.

Mecham denied the original application in July, citing a county regulation that prohibits temporary use permits for activities on farmland if permanent structures valued at more than $1,000 are involved.

Fisher had indicated that some participants occasionally ate or slept in her home during Dream Camps held without permits in 1996, 1997 and 1998. She said she was unaware that a special permit was required until ...[the California dentist]...filed a land use complaint against Friends Landing a year ago as he attempted to persuade his son to leave the group.

In the revised application, the Fishers and Kilborne - the land's legal owner - laid out a plan to have all participants in the $1,750-per-person retreats sleep in tents, be served food from portable kitchens and have access to portable restrooms and showers.

Proponents and opponents will have until Nov. 26 to submit a series of written responses and rebuttals. Mecham said he will then begin deliberating toward a decision.

"I don't want to change zoning laws, but I do want to be able to do the Dream Camp," Kilborne told Thursday's sharply divided crowd.

"This educational retreat in no way affects the land's primary purpose," Whitewind Fisher said.

Several associates and clients of Friends Landing testified in support of the group. Massage therapist Marie Freyre, who lives at the Fishers' farm, maintained that "our freedom is at stake here," and Eugene hypnotherapist Robert Reed contended the Fishers' forested parcel is an ideal location for training sessions in stress relief.

"I would certainly want Oregon landowners to be able to use their land for such people-supportive events," Reed said.

But the most dramatic moment came when [the California dentist's son] strode to the lectern to dispute his family's claims that Friends Landing had taken control of his life.

[The son], dressed in a light blazer with a black shirt and tie, said he has served as a student leader in "outdoor pursuits" for the group and earned money to finish college by doing jobs on the Fishers' farm after his father stopped giving him financial support.

He said he is now employed as a counselor to troubled adolescents for a "county-supported program" that works with the local court system.

"A year ago, my Dad told me if I didn't come home (to California), he would begin a smear campaign against me and Friends Landing," said [the son], who maintained the group has been supportive rather than controlling and has helped him to start his career.

"My experience there has only helped me become more active in community matters," he said.

His father, who lives in Lafayette, Calif., and has his dental practice in Berkeley, acknowledged minutes later that he has aggressively sought to restrict or shut down Friends Landing activities.

[The father] contended that the group's leaders have flouted land use laws, lied to authorities and taken advantage of their clients.

"The damage to my family has already happened," he said. "Let's not let it happen to anyone else."

[The father] cited what he claimed were 18 false or misleading statements made by Friends Landing leaders during the earlier land use hearing, and he listed 19 group events that he said have been held at the farm without permits. He likened the alleged law-bending to that of followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in Central Oregon 15 years ago.

"It was not cultic activity that exposed the Rajneeshees here in Oregon," he said. "It was tax problems."

Four neighbors also testified in opposition to the Friends Landing proposal, maintaining that the group is conducting an unauthorized business, generating automobile traffic in the rural neighborhood and trampling on neighbors' rights.

Land-use activist Nena Lovinger of LandWatch Lane County testified against the permit application, contending that such activities are not intended on land zoned for farming and that the Fishers have repeatedly violated local regulations by conducting activities without the required permits.

"They have been, and are, abusing the privilege of living here," Lovinger said.




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