Board of Appeals overrides objections, gives OK to church rTC construction BALTIMORE COUNTY

November 21, 1992|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

For the second time this month, the Baltimore County Board of Appeals has given its blessing to the construction of a large church in the Oregon Ridge area over the objections of neighbors who say the buildings will spoil the area's quiet rural character.

In a decision released yesterday, the board granted a special zoning exception to allow construction of a 650-seat church on part of a 27-acre tract between Cuba Road and Greencroft Lane, just north of Shawan Road.

The exception is being sought by St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church, which comprises 380 families from the growing Hunt Valley area.

They now meet in the basement of a commercial building in a Hunt Valley business park.

"Obviously, I'm delighted," said the parish priest, the Rev. Thomas J. Donellan. He declined to comment further until he has read the decision.

In addition to the church building, the project calls for parking for 200 cars, conversions of two existing dwellings for offices and a care taker's home, and a barn for meeting space.

The board's decision requires that nearly 20 acres of the tract remain in open space or agriculture.

Dr. Barbara A. Cochran, who lives on Cuba Road near the church site and opposed the special exception, said the decision would be appealed to the Circuit Court.

In its decision, the board rejected neighbors' arguments that the church was out of place in the Oregon Ridge area.

"We find the church size and scale to be appropriate on this tract of land and not out of character" with the surrounding community, board members wrote. They also found the church design to be "in keeping with the site and surrounding area."

The decision also dismissed as "speculative" the opponents' argument that the church would lower property values.

"Even assuming for the moment the values could go down," the board wrote, "the board does not feel that this alone is sufficient reason for a denial of a special exception request."

A former member of the St. Francis parish, Dr. Cochran said she now feels "spiritually alienated" by its pursuit of the site against neighbors' objections.

"As a Catholic and a person who had attended that church, I find this is not consistent with the Vatican II ruling about working with the community, since the community is opposed," she said.

The church could be built at a lower cost on church-owned property on York Road, she said.

The Board's decision came two weeks after it approved a scaled-down, 500-seat house of worship for the Hunt Valley Presbyterian Church, to be located on Beaver Dam Road adjacent to Interstate 83.

Both projects are opposed by the Valleys Planning Council Inc. The group represents those who fear the churches will bring more traffic and more development west of I-83 and erode the rural character of the area, which the county Master Plan seeks to protect.

In the Hunt Valley Presbyterian case, the board noted, "This is no longer purely a farming area, but is now more of a suburban area, and as such, the church itself is not out of character with the neighborhood."

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