Wednesday, June 25, 2014

TOP STORY >> Beebe pagans in showdown at city council

Leader staff writer

It was a standing-room-only record crowd of Christians and Pagans at the Beebe City Council meeting Monday to hear the council vote to table a discussion of the planning and zoning request by Seekers Temple Pagan church and store.

Seekers Temple high priest Bert Dahl and his wife, priestess Felicia, have requested specific zoning for their property on 608 E. Dewitt Henry Drive to be a residence, a place of worship and a commercial business. The Dahls moved to Beebe in March from El Paso, where their temple and store was located for five years. City zoning codes require them to choose one category.

“Multiple uses as intended by the Dahls have not been granted to any other applicant. To do so would destroy the zoning code system entirely,” Beebe Mayor Mike Robertson said.

“There have been allegations that this has been a civil rights issue. This is no more than a zoning issue. The Dahls have been given copies of the Beebe zoning code on more than one occasion. We are not going to place this zoning issue on trial tonight,” Robertson said.

The mayor said only the city code-enforcement officer can issue special-use permits. The city council does not have the authority to hear the appeal of special-use permits. Any special-use permits must be heard by the planning and zoning commission.

Code enforcement officer Milton McCullar gave the Dahls notice that the property could not be used for multiple uses.

Stores with displays must be located in commercial districts and not residential districts, he told them.

The mayor denied a verbal request from Dahl for a business-occupancy license in the building. Robertson said this was the city’s position.

Robertson said the Dahls could open a place of worship of their choosing in the city and they could open a business of their choosing adhering to Beebe’s zoning ordinance.

Churches complying with city codes are located in both residential and business districts in Beebe. There are no residences being used as public places of worship in the city, the mayor said. Dahl is able to worship or fellowship with a small group of friends in his home but not advertise on his website as a church.

Dahl’s home is in an R-2 residential zone. Any garage or shop building has to support the primary use of the residence. Dahl can request a zoning change to commercial from the planning and zoning commission, if he chooses to turn the property into a storefront business.

“He is entitled to use his property how he chooses as long as he meets state building codes, fire codes and electric codes and codes adopted by the city from the state,” City Attorney Barrett Rogers said.

That had not been done and the council moved to table the discussion.

The city allowed Dahl to meet with Rogers and code enforcement officer McCullar to request the use of the property in writing during the meeting.

The city will take the request under advisement and make a determination based on city zoning code.

After the meeting between the three, no determination was made. Different options were discussed. Dahl said, if he has the two plots of his property re-platted using the field behind them and constructs a new building, the city will allow him to reapply for a zoning change.

Dahl estimated it would cost $250,000 for a new building.

Dahl said it was a shell game by the mayor to keep them busy and spending their money.


The peaceful council meeting was full of religious signs. More than 100 people were in the attendance, spilling into the halls and city hall steps.

Some had T-shirts printed with a cross while others wore pentagram pendants.

Local churches showed support for the city. Pagan followers traveled in caravans from Jonesboro, Memphis, Little Rock and Paragould to be at the meeting.

After standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, Beebe policeman Steve Hall led a longer-than-usual two-minute prayer. Some continued to stand and pray, while others sat.

“It’s insulting that every meeting should start with a prayer to (the mayor’s) god. I’m sure it was offensive to the Pagans that were there,” Dahl pointed out.

Dahl said he is planning to request that he lead the prayer for next month’s city council meeting.

After the council meeting ended, two prayer circles formed. Christians gathered around the flag pole. The Pagans gathered around a tree.

Not everyone has always been that amicable, Dahl says.


Dahl alleged that Light-house Pentecostal Church members were harassing his family. The church is across the street from his home.

Dahl said church members have came over several times inviting him to their church and dropping religious leaflets in his yard.

Lighthouse pastor Jason Scheel told The Leader that to his knowledge, that has not occurred. One of the church pastors went to Dahl’s house and welcomed the family to the neighborhood.

“It was short and cordial on both sides,” Schell said.

Schell is also the city’s planning and zoning commission chairman.


Scheel filed a police report on May 23 against Dahl for disorderly conduct and harassing communication through White County District Court-Beebe.

According to the affidavit, “Without an invitation, Dahl rudely entered the Lighthouse Church on the night of May 21. He stepped onto the altar and began screaming at the church members.

“Dahl touched/pushed one member’s chest and said, ‘Bless you, Buddha.’

“Lighthouse church called the Beebe Police Department and he left. Officers told Dahl not to return.

“About 40 minutes later, at 8:17 p.m., Dahl left a threatening voicemail on the pastor’s phone regarding his use of military training on his next visit, which he said, ‘would not be so pleasant.’”

Dahl told The Leader that Dahl went to the Lighthouse Church before the service started and asked for the members’ attention. He told them in a loud voice about the problem with the light beam from the lighthouse and church leaders ignoring their pleas.

The affidavit said that Dahl had previously made numerous harassing phone calls to church leaders with profanity at late hours of the night.

Scheel claimed in a letter to the city that this was the first time in Lighthouse Church’s 48 years that the church had to seek a protection order.

Scheel said the protection order was filed on May 28 for the Lighthouse members.

Church leaders did not know what may happen next time, he said.

Dahl has a plea date on July 9 at White County District Court in Beebe.

He was told by the prosecutor that he could face $2,000 in fines and a year in jail.

Dahl said spending a year in jail would be detrimental to his family and the temple.


The lighthouse in front of Lighthouse church has been planned for years.

Dahl has said the beacon shines light on his house, like “a prison searchlight” all night long. He was told the church put up a shield, but it slips down. He has asked the church to get the deflector re-adjusted.

According to Scheel, Dahl’s house is north of the light. The church installed a black wall within the lighthouse structure so the beam does not hit his house.

“We’re going the extra mile to try and accommodate Mr. Dahl,” Scheel said.

“We built a structure that the community could be proud of. We received hundreds of compliments from people all around. Mr. Dahl is the only one to say anything negative to us about the lighthouse,” he continued.

Scheel said the church has had a lighthouse since the 1980s. But the Lighthouse church was destroyed in the January 1999 tornado.

Lighthouse built a new church at its current location. It too was damaged in the April 2011 tornado.

Scheel said Lighthouse Church already had plans to construct a lighthouse, and the slab for the lighthouse was poured before Dahl moved into his home in March.