A group of Lineboro-area homeowners who successfully opposed the construction of a church retreat in their subdivision are seeking to abolish a county ordinance allowing such projects in residential areas.
"We plan to go after the ordinance vigorously," said Robert L. Foor-Hogue, board president of the Sugar Valley Community Association. "We feel we can present a case strong enough that the commissioners will either revise or rescind the ordinance. We believe the ordinance is ill-conceived and extremely poorly written."
The ordinance, an amendment to county zoning laws enacted last November by the previous Board of County Commissioners, permits "retreats or conference centers," provided they meet certain criteria, in the agricultural and conservation zones. Those districts are reserved primarily for farming, preserving natural resources and low-density residential development.
Members of the community association filed a complaint in Carroll Circuit Court last month seeking to prohibit construction of the retreat, sponsored by the Full Gospel American Mission Church, a Korean-American congregation. They told the commissioners that such centers are inappropriate for residential areas.
Foor-Hogue said the ordinance does not include enough restrictions limiting, for example, what activities are allowed and how often the facility could be used.
Foor-Hogue also expressed concern that retreatswould attract people from outside the community and the county, while providing no benefits to nearby residents. In a letter to the commissioners, Foor-Hogue and his wife, Nancy Lee, questioned the wisdom of a policy potentially allowing groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi organizations to establish retreats amid subdivisions. Groupscould not be rejected by the zoning board on the basis of their beliefs.
"It's giving a blank slate for anyone to come in," he said. "It's not good for the commissioners. If they try to do this anywhere,they'll come up against a lot of community outrage.
"Most of us felt like victims of county government. We purchased land and set up away of life we felt was protected, then government did something unfair to us."
Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said the community association's concerns "are real," but added that "these retreats have to beallowed someplace under the Constitution." He said the commissionerswould reconsider the amendment to see if other districts would be more suitable for retreats and conference centers.
The amendment wasprompted by an attorney representing two other religious organizations seeking to establish retreats for prayer.
Foor-Hogue said the association intends to set up a meeting with the commissioners in October to discuss the issue.
The community association influenced theFull Gospel American Mission Church to withdraw its zoning application seeking approval to build prayer, conference, living and recreational facilities off Schalk Road northeast of Manchester.
"These arechurch people, Christian people," said T. Bryan McIntire, the Westminster attorney for the church group. "They don't want to go where they're not wanted."
The court case was dismissed last week. The association contended in the lawsuit that the Gunpowder Ridge subdivisioncovenant restricts development to single-family dwellings, effectively prohibiting retreats or conference centers.
The church had applied for a zoning exception to build the retreat on three acres of a 22-acre tract in Gunpowder Ridge, angering residents who claimed that the center could harm the environment, increase traffic and alter theneighborhood's rural character.
The church group's $250,000 land purchase agreement included a clause nullifying the contract if zoning approval was not received. John F. Heiderman of Baltimore, a churchleader, said the congregation currently is not looking for another Carroll site.