Resort in Welcome??
Cheryl E. Thomas
There is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization, known as the "National Prayer Garden" (EIN 392053785) that is purportedly planning to purchase a 340 acre parcel in Welcome, MD, an agriculture/conservation area 35 miles south of Washington D.C., for a "prayer garden". However, the plans and the concept are clearly similar to that of a "resort complex" rather than a religious prayer garden. According to their public website, the project's layout will encompass four different sections including the Arrival Area (Area A), the National Prayer Garden (Area B), the Sanctuary (Area C), the National Prayer Retreat (Area D) for the purpose of manifesting the vision into an ideal location to host various faith based activities such as revivals, retreats and other forms of fellowship. AREA A Area A will serve as the arrival point for both guests and employees. This portion of the facility will include a Visitor's Center/Reception area and both the main 1500 car and overflow parking lots, as the use of motor vehicles on other areas of the property will be limited. Guests will enter the facility by driving through the Gunston Road entrance, which will feature a display of international flags to promote the invitation of all nationalities and religious beliefs. AREA B Area B will be home to several prayer gardens, including a Glass Prayer Garden Conservatory, a 374 ft. inter-faith prayer tower that will be commissioned to depict various religious symbols and scenes, a reflecting pool, a Meditation Pavilion and numerous trails. AREAS C and D Area C is planned to feature a 3,000 seat sanctuary, while Area D reflects a more developed plan that will feature a 3,000 seat amphitheater, retreat meeting hall and dining facility, both planned to accommodate 3,000, two residential lodges, a Heliport, various cottages and a number of recreation facilities including: a 9 hole golf course, a lazy river and a number of sports fields. The organization's website states the following: "The plans also include the Tower of Prayer, an ergonomically designed, one-of-a-kind Sanctuary rising up ten stories tall, as well as a Five Star Resort, Retreat Center, and a 2,000 seat Amphitheater for year-round recreational and spiritual activities." (Note the wording "Five Star RESORT") This statement was recently removed from the National Prayer Garden website, probably because it's a "dead giveaway" as to what the organization actually plans to do with the property, if purchased. The organization has been under investigation by the Maryland Secretary of State's office for misleading statements on it's website. The Investigator at the Secretary of State's office has been instrumental to insure that the organization remove all information from its website that may give the false impression that it currently owns the land (which it does not) while it collects tax-deductible funds from unpubllshed sources. According to the Maryland Secretary of State's website: "This organization has applied to register under the Maryland Solicitation Act but has not submitted all of the required information to be registered and in full compliance with the Act and cannot solicit charitable donations". However, at the organizations' website, donations are being solicited. Inasmuch as this is a 501(c)(3) religious organization, it is exempt from paying Federal, state and local taxes, including property taxes. In this current climate of financial austerity the loss of millions of dollars in tax revenue would be significant to the county. In addition, as with any project of this scale, construction cannot commence until local public zoning /planning hearings are held and permits issued, including a Water Appropriation and Use Permit from MDE. It must be emphasized that the property is zoned Agriculture/Conservation and there are NO municipal water or sewage treatment facilities in the entire area. All residents in the Welcome/Nanjemoy areas are dependent on groundwater sources, i.e. private wells. A "resort" such as this would withdraw thousands of gallons per day from the same aquifers as local resident's wells. Inasmuch as the project would have the capacity to accommodate up to 3,000 people per day, and because a 9 hole golf course, swimming pool(s) and a Lazy River are planned, the amount of groundwater withdrawn could have a severe impact on hundreds of private wells in the Welcome/Nanjemoy area. In addition, tons of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides would be used to maintain the 9 hole golf course. The runoff from these chemical agents would flow to the Nanjemoy Creek, the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. One recently proposed private golf course proposal was withdrawn voluntarily when the Charles County Planning Commission found that the public courses that were already in place were underutilized. The organization would be required to install a sewage treatment plant and the effluent would discharge to the Nanjemoy Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River. The effluent would ultimately discharge to the Chesapeake Bay. A parking area that would accommodate up to 1,500 vehicles would also produce significant amounts of pollutants from oil and transmission fluid leaks, all of which would flow directly into Nanjemoy Creek. The widening of Gunston Road (which has NO OUTLET as it has only ONE ingress and egress) and Maryland Rt. 6 (Port Tobacco Road) would be necessary to accommodate the influx of traffic, and would likely encroach on the land and its natural environment. I assume the costs associated with these road upgrades would be borne by the National Prayer Garden organization and not the citizens of Maryland or Charles County. The founders of the organization are Kayode Peter and his wife, Ola, are Nigerian natives, citizenship and residences unknown and both claim to be "pastors" of the organization The Architect, Lawrence Abell and Associates was reportedly involved with the National Harbor project, located on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The Project Manager of the organization, Mr. Bill Murray, who owns Construction Resolutions in LaPlata, MD, is a local developer. Upon questioning, the Project Manager has indicated that a Heliport Landing is necessary in case of "emergencies", however, there is a rescue squad only 2 miles away from the site, a fire station less than 5 miles from the site, and a fully staffed hospital in LaPlata, only nine miles from the site. The National Center for Charitable Statistics indicates that the organization has ZERO assets and ZERO revenue, however the National Prayer Garden's Project Manager has indicated that the organization is currently paying monthly installments of $100,000.00 to an "undisclosed recipient". I have been unable to obtain an IRS Form 990 from the organization that would identify the donors and the amount of each donation from those donors. Therefore, the following questions have been raised: -What is the source of this large amount of money? - Is a foreign investor(s) or foreign government(s) involved? - Are out -of -state televangelist organizations involved and/or helping to fund the project? - Is this project legitimate or a money-making scam? - Does the organization have a solid business plan and construction timeline? - How much money has the organization raised and who are the donors? - How will the organization ensure there is proper infrastructure in place to accommodate as many as 3,000 people daily? A "resort" such as this, in an agricultural/conservation zoned area, is not consistent with the Charles County Comprehensive Plan.
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