Neighbors' complaints delay plans for a new church in Ellicott City ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

December 07, 1992|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

A proposal to build a 45,000-square-foot church in a rural Ellicott City neighborhood has hit a snag.

The congregation of the Ellicott City Assembly of God wants to build a permanent home on a grassy nine-acre knoll between Routes 40 and 144, near Cemetery Lane. The two-phase plan calls for two buildings totaling 45,140 square feet, and a 290-space parking lot.

But the project has drawn complaints from neighbors.

"It's going to be a big parking lot," said Paul Martin, who has lived on Route 144 with his wife, Jean, for the past 38 years.

"We have nothing against the church," said Ms. Martin, "but you're going to have vandalism and a lot of people -- it all goes together."

In a 4-1 decision last month, the Planning Board advised against the project because it is "too big for the site, not sensitive to adjoining properties and not compatible with the neighborhood."

The Board of Appeals, which meets Jan. 10, has the final say.

Under the first phase, 117 parking spaces and a 20,440-square-foot general purpose building would be built. The building could accommodate 350 people. Eventually, the church envisions a total of about 800 worshipers and a sanctuary, but it faces a rocky road.

Nearby residents say the church would alter their pastoral neighborhood, add traffic to already busy Route 144, and pose a hazard to children who play in the nearby Kiwanis-Wallace Park.

"To put a very active church next to a recreational park for children is foolish," said Ms. Martin.

Residents along Route 144 say they moved to the area to take advantage of its rural atmosphere. The 2,000-acre Doughoregan Manor, bordered by a split-rail fence, dominates the area. Horses, corn fields, and red barns dot gently rolling meadows.

Route 144 is a passageway into a different world, said resident April Robbins, who opposes the church.

"You have the Manor on the left with beautiful land," said Ms. Robbins, whose home looks out on the fenced-in property. "We all have rather large gardens -- that's how we live."

Marie Weeks, who has lived on Route 144 for seven years, said she likes the area because her three children have room to play, and deer roam through her sizable backyard.

L "It's rather quiet and that's the way we like it," she said.

But the Rev. Richard Bradford said the neighborhood is rapidly losing its pastoral identity and would be a perfect fit for his church.

"The community is changing," said Mr. Bradford, who cited as an example a large Turf Valley housing development off Route 40.

Mr. Bradford said the proposed site is ideal because it is affordable and near the Kiwanis Park where the congregation used to meet.

Without a permanent home, the congregation now meets at Mt. Hebron High School and in the homes of church members.

"It's very limiting," said Mr. Bradford, who says there is not enough space for congregational meals, mid-week meetings, music and entertainment.

With a permanent building, the church could hold Sunday School, morning and evening worship services, mid-week Bible Study, weekly youth meetings, choir rehearsal, and various monthly meetings, the pastor said.

The three-year-old church has about 160 members now, Pastor Bradford said. He expects that number to grow to about 350 to 400 worshippers during the next decade.

"We see our maximum size as 400 to 500 people," said Mr. Bradford.

"This will be a long fight. There's a long process ahead of us."

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