The Covenant Baptist Church is expected to receive approval tonight from the county Board of Appeals for a new home on 123 acres across the street from Centennial Park.
Pastor D. Walter Collett plans to move his growing congregation of 500 to a new building housing a church and Christian grade school on what is now rolling, overgrown farmland north of Route 108 and along the west side of Centennial Lane.
The church's petition for a special exception for a religious facility was unopposed at a March 18 hearing before the Board of Appeals. But the board couldn't issue the exception because it lacked a written recommendation from the Planning Board.
Planning Board members signed the required document yesterday, allowing the Board of Appeals to grant its approval at its regular meeting tonight in the George Howard county office building.
The church has grown out of its home of two years, a 9,000-square-foot building on 6.3 acres at Cedar Lane and Cedar Fern Court near Columbia's Hickory Ridge village.
The congregation has a contract from the Mooseberger family to buy the parcel off Centennial Lane for about $1.7 million. The sale is contingent upon several factors, principally that the church obtain the special exception from the county Board of Appeals.
Plans call for a building as large as 45,000 square feet and costing perhaps $3 million to house worship services and a Christian elementary school.
Efforts by the Soccer Association of Columbia to lease about half the property for soccer fields fell through recently, said the church's attorney, Vincent Guida.
He said the area could not be developed for playing fields because it had too many low-lying federally protected wetland areas.
The church is planning to use all of the land instead for church programs such as the Royal Ambassadors, in which children study environmental issues, and for biology students to use as an outdoor laboratory.
The church attempted to obtain a special exception petition for its Cedar Lane property that would have allowed it to build the school there, but withdrew it last fall after a parishioner saw a sign for the larger property.
The church was founded in 1983, meeting first in Harper's Choice Middle School before buying the Cedar Lane parcel two years later. When the church occupied its current building on Cedar Lane, it had about 180 members.
Under Pastor Collett's leadership, the church has become known as a conservative voice on issues such as abortion and homosexuality. Neighbors know it for its periodic displays of crosses planted on its lawn to represent abortions.