Barbara Bauman and her neighbors in the Hunt Valley area say they have nothing against religion in general or the Presbyterian Church in America in particular.
But, Ms. Bauman explains, the locals have plenty against a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) congregation's plan to build a cathedral-style church on 23 acres on Beaver Dam Road just west of Interstate 83.
Residents say the planned 25,000-square-foot, 600-seat church with its proposed 95-foot steeple and 200 parking spaces would be far too imposing for the rural community about eight miles north of Baltimore.
They also contend that the church would create traffic hazards and strain the underground water supply in an area where septic systems routinely break down.
Baltimore's water and sewer lines generally do not extend into the northern sections of Baltimore County. Many communities north of the Beltway and west of I-83 rely on local well water.
In addition, the Hunt Valley residents say they fear that the church's project could create a need for public water and sewer lines to be extended to their community. Such a concern is common among countians who live just beyond developed areas. But county officials say any extension of the lines would be too costly and time-consuming to occur soon.
The property on which the church wants to build is zoned RC4, meaning watershed land where only single residential units can be constructed. In approving the planned construction last summer, the County Review Group granted an exception to the RC4 zoning. Later in the year county Deputy Zoning Commissioner Timothy Kotroco granted an exception allowing the structure to be larger than the small churches that dot the countryside.
The community's challenge to CRG approval of the plan is to be heard March 3 by the county Board of Appeals. The residents' appeal of Mr. Kotroco's ruling is to be heard March 10.
Church officials also plan to appeal the deputy zoning commissioner's ruling, which limited the structure's seating capacity to 500, or 100 fewer than the church had requested.
Mr. Kotroco also ruled last year that the church could not operate commercial day-care, bingo games or bazaars in the building. Church leaders say they have no problems with these restrictions.
The church has a contract to buy the 23-acre lot from Cignal Development of Lutherville for $575,000, says Donald Deuterman, a church elder who has helped oversee the building plan.
However, the sale is contingent on the structure's having 600 seats, Mr. Deuterman says.
"We'll have to see if we win our appeal on March 10. If we don't, then we'll have to decide whether to scrap our plans altogether. We wanted 600 seats. We didn't want any number restriction," he says.
Church officials estimate construction will cost about $3 million, Mr. Deuterman adds.
Founded two years ago as a satellite of a PCA church in Timonium, Hunt Valley Presbyterian has about 200 members. They hold Sunday services in the Bonnie Blink Chapel of the Masonic Home of Maryland in Hunt Valley.
"We're in a difficult situation there because, when we get everybody in, we're maxed out for space," says the Rev. Michael Conord, the interim pastor of the congregation.
Some church activities are held in members' homes, says Mr. Conord, "or they're not held at all."
He adds, "There's also the psychological reason for wanting a permanent structure. Until a congregation has that, it's like a vagabond looking for a home."
Mary E. Zinkhan owns a 130-year-old stone house across from the proposed church site. She says the church's plans to have Beaver Dam Road widened and otherwise changed to accommodate access to the church lot "would devastate my property's value."
Ms. Zinkhan and other residents say they fear that activities at the church would cause increased traffic in the area.
"Traffic congestion is a big concern," says John Sewell, who owns a 200-year-old home near the site of the planned church. "I see this church as something like a business complex, with a lot of cars coming and going."
The Traffic Group, an independent consulting firm in Towson, studied the facility's potential effect on local traffic. The firm found that, even when the church would be at full capacity, local traffic patterns would suffer "no adverse impact."
Area residents also argue that the church site contains enough underground water to accommodate only a dozen or so people, or far fewer than the hundreds who would attend services.
"There have been some septic tank failures at a number of homes in the vicinity," resident Michael Turley says. "The problem is that the soil around here is just not conducive to the kind of heavy water use that we expect this church to have."
Mr. Deuterman says the church "won't use any more water than two houses would. On Sundays, there might be some flushing of toilets and running of sinks and drinking fountains, but nothing major. We'll have only a warming kitchen, not a full-scale one. During the week, when our ministerial staff is here and some activities are held, the water use would be practically zero."
The county Department of Environmental Protection stated last May in a memo to the then-commissioner of zoning, J. Robert Haines, that the property's two 10,000-square-foot septic reserve areas were "acceptable for allowing the construction" of the church.
But the department also advised in the memo that an additional pumping system might have to be installed if the reserve areas needed repairs or the amount of sewage increased.