By Vicki Brown
CAMDENTON — For a third time, Camden County Planning and Zoning commissioners delayed action on a zoning change that would allow land formerly owned by Windermere Baptist Conference Center to be developed.
Although county planning director Chris Hall had sought a legal opinion regarding the land’s ownership, commissioners want the opinion in writing before deciding whether to change the land’s zoning from P-2 Commercial Park to R-1 Residential. Commissioners tabled action on June 18.
Springfield-based Pinnacle Pointe Development Co. plans to construct residential housing on 1,005 acres. The Missouri Baptist Convention claims 943 of those acres.
Commissioners delayed action on the request at their May 21 meeting. Several area residents had expressed concern and had encouraged commissioners to deny the request at a public hearing on April 16.
The development firm has a warranty deed and paperwork as proof of ownership. But two pending cases — one on appeal from Cole County and one in Camden County — have created conflict over which entity — the convention or Pinnacle Point — legally controls the property.
Attorneys say “there is no true answer” to the commission’s dilemma, Hall told commissioners on June 18. The commission could continue to table the matter. But to do so would open the commission to a possible lawsuit based on failure to act in “a timely manner” because litigation in both cases could stretch out for years.
Commissioners could go ahead and vote. If they approved the zoning request, anyone opposed to it could request a stay, either against the commission or the property owner. If the request was denied, the property owner could appeal.
“There is less of a chance for a lawsuit to go ahead and act,” Hall said.
As part of a 2006 debt restructuring plan to cover the conference center’s Wilderness Creek expansion, Windermere transferred 943 acres of its 1,300 acres to National City Bank of Cincinnati in late 2005. The bank sold the property to Windermere Development Company Inc. William R. Jester owns both Windermere Development and Pinnacle Point Development firms.
The MBC filed a lawsuit in Camden County on Nov. 1, 2006, seeking to stop all land transactions at Windermere pending the outcome of legal action the convention had taken against five formerly-affiliated institutions, including the conference center, in Cole County in 2002.
In its Camden County suit, the convention also has requested an injunction to prohibit Jester from financing and beginning construction on the property.
The MBC filed legal action against Windermere, The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist University, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and Word&Way after the five entities changed their corporate charters in 2000 and 2001 to allow each institution to elect its own trustees.
At the April 16 planning and zoning hearing, Hall noted Pinnacle Point’s acreage is surrounded by residential and agricultural use land. The area contains some P-2 commercial park zoning, but about 85 percent of the land is zoned R1, he said. At that time, Hall recommended commissioners approve the request.
The MBC is appealing Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan’s March 4 decision that Windermere had acted legally when it changed its charter.