Last summer, the Guardians HOPE Center received help rehabilitating a building at the site of a former Bible college. Now the center’s leaders have been ordered by a judge to cease all uses of the property until they come into compliance with zoning or modify a conditional use permit.
In an April 30 ruling, Chesterfield Circuit Court Judge Edward A. Robbins Jr. ordered Chris and Stacy Lane, David Lee and Whitmell Investment Group to cease all uses of the property at 500 Baptist Drive as of May 9. Robbins cited the fact that the property is only zoned for use as a private school or college.
The defendants contended at trial that a church (Love of Life Fellowship) was operating on the property, but Robbins said they presented no testimony or evidence of it.
“From all appearances, defendants are engaged in any number of charitable activities to benefit needful persons,” Robbins said. “That work is noble and laudable. Nevertheless, the court is bound by evidence presented, the state of the applicable law and its own duty to rule in accordance with both.”
The property has been permitted to operate as a private school or college since 1979, according to a Chesterfield County Planning Department document in the court file.
Chesterfield County requested an injunction against the defendants on April 5, 2018. The defendants answered the petition 15 days later, but on May 24 asked that the case be moved to U.S. District Court in Richmond. A federal district court judge stayed the state circuit court proceedings on June 1, 2018. However, the case was remanded back to Chesterfield Circuit Court on Dec. 21, and a federal judge said it appeared that the defendants had the case moved to federal court as a “delay tactic.”
The Circuit Court file included a Sept. 19, 2016 “Notice of Zoning Violation” letter from the county’s director of planning, Kirkland Turner, informing the defendants that the only permitted use on the property was a school or college and uses incidental and accessory to such. The letter advised the defendants of their option to apply for an amended condition and the fees associated with it and of their right to appeal the decision to the Board of Zoning Appeals within 30 days. The county’s supervisor in charge of code enforcement, Ted Barclay, said the decision was not appealed, according to a court document.
Lane has said that the campus was vacant for a number of years until the property owner, David Lee of Fairfax, began allowing the Lanes to use it in February 2016. The Guardians HOPE Center provided food and services to the poor and veterans, Chris Lane said.
Lane said they began having worship services on the site in August 2016.
A former member of the Marine Corps, Lane and his wife decided to go into full-time ministry when their son Dakota was killed in Virginia Beach in March 2015.
County supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle has said the county tried to work with the Lanes in an attempt to bring them into compliance with zoning. “[Chris] was going to bring us a plan and never did,” she said.