Suit filed against county
A lawsuit was filed Monday in Leavenworth County District Court appealing the county commission's decision to deny a special-use permit for Camp Gaea, a 168-acre retreat 10 miles north of Tonganoxie.
A month ago, county commissioners rejected a request to renew the retreat's permit, saying they were concerned about the camp's effects on neighboring landowners.
The camp is owned by Earth Rising Inc., a not-for-profit Missouri corporation.
At the county commission hearing, about a dozen neighbors and other county residents spoke against the camp, expressing concern about nudity, homosexual activities and heavy traffic during camp events. In addition, neighboring landowners presented a petition signed by 77 area residents, urging commissioners to deny the camp's special-use permit renewal.
The camp, which is used by its members, as well as rented to other organizations for weekend activities, is known for its pagan rituals that include nighttime drumbeat ceremonies.
During the hearing, Earth Rising representatives said they would file a lawsuit if the commissioners denied the special-use permit.
Attorneys for Earth Rising Inc., which owns Camp Gaea, say in the lawsuit filed this week that they don't believe Earth Rising was required to obtain a permit for the property.
The county's decision to deny the permit violates Kansas land use codes, the lawsuit says. And, because of allegations made by members of the county's planning and zoning commission regarding conduct and activities at Camp Gaea, the board of directors of Earth Rising contend that their First, Fifth and 14th Amendments rights have been violated.
According to the lawsuit, the county's decision violates the members' rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of religious expression and practice and freedom from denial of due process and equal protection.
Earth Rising is asking the court to reinstate the special-use permit, and for the county to pay damages, attorney fees and court costs. And the group is asking the court to grant a permanent injunction that would allow them to operate Camp Gaea until the matter is decided by the court.
County Commission Chairman Don Navinsky on Tuesday declined to comment on the lawsuit.
"It came as no surprise to me," Navinsky said.