Route 7 Community Outreach Church, a not-for-profit ministry based in Estero, was informed last summer that their paintball games, held every other Saturday for the past four years, may be in violation of a Lee County zoning regulation regarding the property they use.
Charles Parker, pastor at Route 7, told The Christian Post that the effort was founded as a "teen outreach" with paintball being seen as the most inclusive sport they could use.
"We wanted to offer a sport that would allow the smallest, slowest kids the same competitive advantage to enjoy their day with us. Paintball was the only sport to offer that," said Parker. "Kids put on the mask they feel like a team player and the bully becomes the best friend. And yes we have actually seen this take place."
Parker said that the notice of a complaint about their usage of the property came while he was attending a wedding in Joplin, Mo.
"The county code enforcer Dave Crabtree called me personally. We attended an informal hearing in which the board found us as a church not in violation. So they rewrote the citation to call the owner of the property to be running a business on AG2 land," said Parker.
"The land owner and myself with his Attorney had done the research and there were no laws in relation to what we are doing. Under acceptable activities for private AG2 land use is Paintball. If we are shut down there will be many kids sitting back at home doing nothing but getting back into trouble."
Joan D. LaGuardia, communications manager for Lee County Department of Community Development, told The Christian Post that the property Route 7's ministry was using is meant for "agricultural use."
"The operation is believed to be in violation of the Lee County Land Development Code zoning regulations. This area is zoned for agricultural use," said LaGuardia.
"It is also believed to be out of compliance with the Lee Plan which prohibits a commercial enterprise in this section of the county – a groundwater resource area where most of the county's drinking wells are located."
LaGuardia also told CP that she holds no issue with the Route 7 ministry, adding that Lee County officials have done their best to work alongside the property owner and the ministry to resolve the issue.
"I think the county has reached out to help this group quite a bit … there was what I think was a very productive meeting with everyone sitting at the table," said LaGuardia. "I do believe that there may be a way to make all this work. But they still have to abide by the rules and the rules of that area of the county are very specific."
Route 7 and the owner of the property they use for their paintball games will get to bring their arguments at public hearing scheduled for Nov. 5. A hearing examiner will determine if the paintball ministry can be legally classified as a commercial enterprise, a private recreational club (which is allowed in the area) or a religious outreach.