EXCELSIOR SPRINGS, Mo. -- A controversial religious group is causing a stir in rural Clay County, just outside Excelsior Springs, Mo., where they want to build an eco-friendly village of tiny houses so they can live, work and worship together.
The plot of land sits near the caves along McCleary and Old Quarry Roads near some neighbors who are concerned the small housing development would be bad for their community.
This ministry group goes by several names, including The Church of Liberty and Liberty Disaster Relief, but it is best known as the Fellowship of the Martyrs.
Pastor Doug Perry founded the group and compares it to the Shakers and Quakers, or as he says, people who lived together, worked together, farmed together and worshipped together. Perry said one of the group’s missions is to help provide food, clothing and housing to those in need, including the homeless, mentally ill, recovering drug addicts and ex-offenders.
“We are Orthodox mainstream Christian with beliefs,” Perry explained, “as far as Jesus Christ is the son of God, died and rose again and all that; the difference being living together as a community instead of just Sundays and Wednesday nights.”
Perry’s passion is evident when he talks about building an eco-friendly village of 56 tiny houses on six acres of land he is leasing just off Old Quarry Road.
“I'm really excited about this,” he said of his development plans. “I think it would be something that would be a blessing for the town. We’re talking about just simple, little 10 by 15, 12 by 16 little cabins that would have basically a studio apartment, and we have some larger designs that might accommodate a family with some kids.”
The property is 70 acres and includes a cave that once served as a haunted house each Fall. Perry is now prepping it to become a sanctuary and meeting space for his group’s members.
“For us, it`s just an opportunity for us to lower our footprint,” Perry said, “live more inexpensively, be able to care for folks that otherwise might not be able to live on their own that are a part of our congregation.”
He wants to dub it Liberty Farm, and he's just submitted development plans to Clay County in an effort to get the land rezoned as a multi-family residential area.
“We’re talking about 15 cars maybe for 15, 20, 30 people that might be living out here initially,” he said of possible residents, “with a maximum of maybe 100, 150.”
But some neighbors are worried Perry’s proposed sustainable way of living, such as using recycled rainwater and composting human waste, will be bad for their property values.
“I think it would probably need to be permanent structures, for one thing, that meet the codes that the rest of us had to meet when we built our homes,” said Gail Colvin, who lives nearby.
Colvin said living in proximity to some of people involved in the ministry, whom Perry admits include the homeless, recovering drug addicts or ex-offenders, are also worrisome.
“We’ve heard that there are people that have been in trouble with the law,” Colvin said, “and you know, I think everybody deserves a second chance, but it is concerning to us.”
She plans to speak her piece at a planning and zoning meeting in a few weeks – the same one Perry plans to attend in defense of his plans.
“It shouldn't be this much of a fight,” Perry said of his efforts. “I think we have a First Amendment right to say what kind of a church we are and not be forced into their thinking of what a church ought to be – and we believe the church is best lived out in community.”
Perry calls the outcry from neighbors a misunderstanding, and said the people in his ministry are used to defending their beliefs and practices amidst controversy.
“There are certainly folks that don’t understand,” he said. “There’s always fear of the unknown, and they’re not sure what we stand for or what we believe in, or is it a cult or whatever? And there’s always somebody online that’s going to talk smack about you.”
County leaders will discuss Perry’s application for rezoning at the planning and zoning meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 1, at 6:30 p.m. at 234 W. Shrader, Suite C, in Liberty, Mo.
Clay County Director of Planning and Zoning Matt Tapp declined to comment on Perry’s proposed plans, and referred all media questions to Nicole Brown, assistant county administrator and county spokesperson. Brown told FOX 4 she cannot comment until both sides of the issue are heard at the planning and zoning meeting.