Dover Area Church Could Face Fines for RV Shelter - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Dover Area Church Could Face Fines for RV Shelter

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A picture of the RV located behind Victory Church near Dover. (WBOC/Nick Layman) A picture of the RV located behind Victory Church near Dover. (WBOC/Nick Layman)

Kent County, Del. -- A church near Dover has been threatened with fines of at least $100 a day while it uses an RV as a shelter for a homeless woman because county officials said no permission was granted for the property to be used as a commercial recreational campground.

The warning from the Kent County Levy Court was issued to Victory Church, located on Forrest Avenue. Kia Evans, a county spokeswoman, said in an email message that a complaint was received that a third RV had been moved onto the property and was occupied. The potential fines are not to exceed $1,000 and would be imposed by a Justice of the Peace Court if the party is found guilty, she said.

The property is zoned AR, which allows for conditional use as a commercial recreational campground if special approval is given by the county. Evans said the idea of a commercial recreational campground on the property was explored several months ago and county officials met at the site in July to discuss the possibility of a campground and group home.

"It is possible to create a commercial recreational campground at the property with the proper approvals. The purpose of the approvals is to ensure that the health and safety of occupants of the campground, neighbors, and the public at large, is covered," she said.

Aaron Appling, the pastor of Victory Church, said the ministry has been housing Alexis Simms, a 21-year-old woman who is blind because of Lupus, has a young daughter, and is pregnant. Her mother, whom Appling said is also homeless, is staying in the RV as well to act as a caretaker while the daughter is sometimes housed in the vehicle. The shelter was arranged while Simms seeks an affordable housing solution.

Appling said he is frustrated because he believes his church is providing a civil service by taking care of the homeless but is being punished. The church provides meals to the homeless and temporary shelter at times.

"As a church we're to serve the least and when someone like Alexis is suffering we can't bow down to the county's wishes, which would result in her being kicked out into the street. We have to stand up for her," he said.

Simms said she was also disappointed that the church was being fined.

"It's not just me that's homeless. There's thousands of us and we want help. We're not contagious. We're human people and we're here," she said.

Evans responded to Appling's claims of unfair treatment by saying that the county is not opposed to working with the church, but also prefers to resolve zoning violations before initiating legal action.

"Kent County’s Department of Planning will continue to work with meeting the needs of our  community and working with Victory Church to achieve compliance," she said.

Appling said this isn't the first time someone has been housed in an RV on the site. He said two RVs were recently moved off the site, one of which was used to shelter a Puerto Rican family for roughly nine months while they sought housing and the RV remained on the property for some time. The vehicle remained there until he asked them to move it this week.

The church has generated controversy because of a recent proposal to allow homeless to live in so-called "tiny homes" on the property. Although he has not moved forward on the plan, Appling said he would like to be able to allow people who have jobs but cannot afford permanent housing to live in cabins in a 5-acre campground on the property.

However, Appling said the church cannot afford the tens of thousands of dollars needed to begin the process of obtaining a permit and is hoping an engineering firm could assist, doing pro bono work on behalf the ministry.

Some people who live near the home said they're pleased the county is looking into issues at Victory Church. They said they have no objection to organizations helping the homeless or needy but that the church has been a poor neighbor, alleging that fights, potential criminal activity, code violations, and excessively loud noise have been problems coming from the property and are not addressed.

"The zoning department is basically doing the job they were intended to do. I mean this has been going on for a while," said Tom Farrington, who lives next to the church.

Appling said claims from some neighbors that unmonitored criminal activity is happening on the property is false or exaggerated.

"We have to help these people regardless of the situation," he said. "Let's work together to find a solution that's reasonable and helping those in need at the most."

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