By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — A longtime resident hopes to offer his family farm as a spiritual retreat, but town zoning officials want more information before giving their permission.
Paul Doolittle wants to bring a spiritual haven to his property at 33 Old Chester Road. He appeared before the Zoning Board last month, requesting an appeal of an administrative decision by Bob Mackey after the code enforcement officer determined Doolittle’s Sun Point Farm Sanctuary didn’t meet the zoning definition of a “church” in that part of town.
That’s why officials asked Doolittle for more information before making a ruling.
Mackey said he wasn’t sure how Doolittle’s plan fit in with the town’s church definition, so he encouraged Doolittle to bring the appeal forward for more discussion.
Doolittle is a lifetime Unitarian Universalist and has used his family property for spiritual retreats for decades.
“A group of people wanted to do yoga, meditate and farm organically,” Doolittle said.
When his parents moved to the property in the 1980s, Doolittle said he toned down his spiritual efforts. After his parents both died, he decided it was time to revisit his vision.
“The Sun Point Farm came back center stage in my mind as more of a building infrastructure on the farm, a formal retreat center,” he said.
Doolittle said he wants to help people come together, foster a love of the land and be spiritual while doing it.
His plan includes a cluster of buildings on the property, with primitive cabins in the wooded areas of the land.
Another nine acres would be set aside for organic farming.
Doolittle said his faith has always been one of protecting and appreciating his land and natural resources.
But it’s what constitutes a “church” in the eyes of town zoning officials that is still up in the air.
Churches are allowed in every town zoning district in Derry. Mackey wasn’t sure how to categorize Doolittle’s plan.
“This is not a church in the traditional sense of the word,” Doolittle said. “It’s not a building with a steeple.”
Doolittle has support from other residents.
Tammy Gray said she thought Doolittle’s vision would be a good one.
“I think it would be good for the community, the fact that there is nothing wrong with what I think he is doing,” she said.
But Richard Callahan, who also lives on Old Chester Road, said there were too many gray areas in Doolittle’s plan.
“He’s asking for housing to be put there,” Callahan said. “Is this a church or a retreat center?”
Doolittle said if his plan is approved he would somehow transfer its control to the Unitarian Universalist group. He also said he is not trying to avoid paying any taxes if the retreat center is considered a worship area.
Zoning Board Chairman Alan Virr said the group needed more information before any decision could be made. Doolittle will continue to provide more details on his plan.
He wants to continue to keep his property valued for generations to come.
“I am trying to keep it open, trying to keep it special,” he said. “I don’t want it to disappear when I’m gone. The land there is sacred to me.”