A Lineboro couple has filed a complaint in Carroll Circuit Court attempting to prevent a church group from building a retreat in their Gunpowder Ridge subdivision.
Citing their subdivision covenant, which restricts development to single-family dwellings, Robert L. and Nancy Lee Foor-Hogue have asked the court to clarify homeowner rights under the agreement and to prohibit construction and operation of a religious retreat.
The Foor-Hogues filed the document Monday, after their Sugar Valley Community Association convinced the Board of Zoning Appeals to postpone a hearing on the church's application.
"It's the logical thing to do from a legal standpoint," said T. Bryan McIntire, the Westminster attorney for three Full Gospel American Mission Church members who applied for a zoning exemption.
McIntire said he had not seen the court papers or discussed the issue with his clients, John F. andSonghui Heiderman of Baltimore and Man Kun Lee of Bel Air, Harford County. He said he probably would announce this week whether his clients will pursue the matter or give up on the Schalk Road site.
Residents of the rural northeast Carroll community contend that a retreatwould hurt the environment, increase traffic, create obstacles for emergency services and change the neighborhood's character.
An amendment to the county zoning ordinance passed last November permits "retreat or conference centers," under certain conditions, in the agricultural and conservation zones, which are restricted primarily to farming and low-density residential development. The 22-acre Schalk Road property -- about three would be used for the retreat's conference, living and recreational facilities -- is zoned conservation.
Even if the court rules in favor of the Foor-Hogues, the zoning board couldapprove the church's application. The county is responsible only forenforcing its zoning code, not community groups' covenants, said Assistant County Attorney Isaac Menasche. But applicants typically drop zoning requests if a court rules against them, he said.
The Foor-Hogues are upset that the community group must oppose the retreat, saying the ordinance never should have been amended to allow such centers in residential areas. They have written to the county commissionersurging them to eliminate that provision.
"This ordinance was poorly conceived and opens up a Pandora's box," they wrote. "Any sect or quasi-religious group that would like to establish itself could do soeasily. We as a county would violate their First Amendment rights ifwe questioned their right to build a center.
"Although I have no personal concerns with the present group petitioning the county, whatif it were the Ku Klux Klan or a neo-Nazi group?"