Meticulously crafted stone carvings bearing messages of peace, love and harmony help set the atmosphere outside the secluded home of Ben and Whitewind Fisher [previously known as Susan Kilborne Musumeci]. Second growth Douglas fir trees stand tall above the well kept homelocated off Upper Camp Creek Road east of Springfieldand its nearby grounds. Sloping hills help isolate the property from neighbors and the valley below. Such a peaceful setting provides the ideal backdrop for what the Fishers claim is their life's workhelping people find spiritual peace and realize their dreams. But the dreams aren't working out as planned for the Fishers, at least this summer.
The Fishers founded and operate Friends Landing International Centers for Conscious Living, which conducts a variety of workshops, training sessions and certification programs from an office in downtown Eugene and a similar facility in Walnut Creek, Calif. Staff members include licensed hypnotherapists who were originally trained through Friends Landing. The organization markets Personal Development Services designed to help clients reach their full potential professionally and personally. Specific programs include hypnosis or trance sessions, dream coach sessions with counselors who have gone through five years of training at Friends Landing and other regular classes. Friends Landing's basic concept -- involves finding peace, happiness and success through stress reduction, meditation, harmony with nature and other tools not normally associated with mainstream training programs. But Camp Creek area residents told a Lane County land use hearings officer Thursday that behind the group's façade, Friends Landing is deceitful and irresponsible. The group's harshest critic calls Friend's Landing a manipulative and dangerous cult.
The conflict surfaced this week during a public hearing regarding a proposed retreat on the property.
Friends Landing filed a temporary use permit application last month to hold an event called World Dream Camp on the Fishers' 60-acre parcel located at 38684 Upper Camp Creek Road about--3 1/2, miles from the Camp Creek Road intersection. World Dream Camp includes classes, workshops and camping events. The 12-day event was scheduled to begin July 12.
Participants meditate bond with nature and join group sharing sessions, Ben Fisher told a land-use hearings, officer Thursday. Fisher said 90 percent of the participants are doctors, social workers, ministers and other professionals involved in healing people.
Records indicate Whitewind's mother, Barbara Kilborne, purchased the land in 1995. A county staff report prepared in conjunction with the application indicates Friends Landing began the annual retreats on the property three years ago.
Eugene attorney Al Couper, who represents the group, testified that the Fishers were unaware of the need for the permit until this year.
The group seeks a five-year permit to present the annual event.
More than a dozen area property owners testified against the permit. Neighbors said the event substantially increases traffic on the normally quiet road, creating congestion and a safety hazard for children. Other complaints involved noise late at night that disrupts the areas quiet setting. Part of retreat events involve group sing-alongs that include bongo drums. Neighbors claim the drums are clearly audible a half mile away.
Neighbors also expressed concern about a fire that appeared to get out of hand during last summer's event.
Open burning is forbidden in the area during the summer due to extreme fire hazard. Neighbors summoned fire trucks to the Friend's Landing property last summer after seeing smoke and flames coming from the site. Neighbors complained the fire could have been potentially devastating to timber stands and homes throughout the valley. "I'm concerned about this fire that took place," said Raymond Mackey, an Upper Camp Creek Road resident. "I would hate to see my place go up in flames because of this kind of activity. "Longtime valley resident Bob Green said Friends Landings activities simply don't mesh with the community. Green said traffic constantly flows from the Fisher property, even when they don't appear to be having a retreat. "This is a rural area. We don't need that here," Green said. Other neighbors complained of past incidents in which the Fisher family infringed on adjacent properties, cutting down trees and bulldozing areas without permission. But it was a California area dentist who first alerted county land officials of the illegal retreat [the father's] battle with the group began in late 1996, when he learned his son, had become involved with the group. [The father] claims he first realized something was wrong in February 1997, when [the son] asked to borrow $5,000 to pay for a Friends Landing course. [The son's] affiliation with Friends Landing has pulled him away from a family he was once close to, [the father] has said. He claims [the son] became completely dependent upon the organization during a time when he was vulnerable.
[The father] blames the group for continuing to alienate [the son] from his family and maintains the group may victimize other young men in the same manner. [The son's] mother, paid $1,750 to attend last year's retreat. She testified Thursday that activities at the gathering didn't match the group's claims. For example, [the mother] said she was allowed to sleep inside, although the permit application requires activities remain outdoors. [The mother] said Fisher told her to tell neighbors she was on the property for a family reunion because the group didn't have a permit. Fisher said Thursday her group has nothing to hide. [The son] testified that he recently graduated from the University of Oregon and is on staff at Friends Landing. Fisher said [the father's] resentment toward the organization stems from his disappointment over [the son's] career choices and the falling-out between father and son that followed. Couper responded to neighbors' concerns by saying the group would meet all fire and sanitary codes and it was willing to comply with any reasonable noise restrictions. Lane Council of Governments hearing official Milo Mecham told the group his decision would be based on land-use laws alone. Mecham said his decision would offer no reflection on the merits of Friends Landing or its programs. The argument surrounding the dream camp appears to be a moot issue because of timing.Mecham scheduled a visit to the site on July 2 and he intends to conduct tests to determine how far noise is likely to travel from the property. Residents will have another week after the site visit to submit testimony in writing. Mecham told the Fishers he could not render a decision before the event's scheduled first day on July 12. He suggested the group delay the event's starting date. After the hearing, Fisher said it is doubtful the group can hold the retreat this summer because of the timing conflict.
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