Church seeks move to farm Neighbors concerned about noise, crowds

June 06, 1996|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

A small Korean Baptist church wants to move its worship services to a quiet, rural Highland neighborhood off Browns Bridge Road. But its plan to use a farmhouse on the land until it can build a church is drawing fire from at least two neighbors.

The county planning board meets this morning to consider whether to recommend approval of a request for a zoning exception by Sun Rak Baptist Church, which wants to buy a 15-acre farm and use two residential buildings for worship services on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings.

The action comes as churches and synagogues in the Baltimore area are looking to rural areas as a source of inexpensive property with enough acreage for the gymnasiums, meeting rooms and parking lots that growing congregations want.

In Howard County, a Lubavitch congregation stirred controversy 1989 when it applied for an exception for its religious center and preschool in Hickory Ridge. When it later sought to expand to include elementary students, tempers flared again, but the school eventually was approved.

The county's only Buddhist temple, a Korean Zen Buddhist temple in Fulton, moved to Baltimore in the mid-1980s after complaints from neighbors about chanting and traffic.

Although the Korean Baptist church that wants to move to Highland is small -- 30 to 40 members -- neighbors are concerned about how the church might develop the land and accommodate the cars of those who come to worship.

The congregation, which has been worshiping in Bethany Lane Baptist Church's facilities for nearly four years, plans to use the two houses on the west county land for worship and as housing for its pastor, Youn Jun Park, and his family, and for the family of a deacon.

Neighbors concerned

The congregation would like to construct a church building on the property in the future, but neighbors behind the farm on Green Dell Lane, represented by attorney Thomas M. Meachum, say they would like the church to be built right away.

The two-story farmhouse that would be used for worship is about 150 feet from a residence on Green Dell Lane.

"Why not use the other end of property and build a new building that's centrally located on the property?" Meachum asked. "They could get the special exception permit now and still have two years to get the building permit.

"The congregation would get the property and the church, and my clients would have peaceful enjoyment of their property."

Other neighbors said they had no objections to the church's pro- posal but that they were worried about future building projects at the site.

Dave Irick, whose property is next to the farm on Browns Bridge Road, said he won't be disturbed if a congregation of 30 to 40 members holds services twice a week. And, because the church anticipates that members will arrive in a maximum of 10 vehicles on Sundays and five on Wednesdays, Irick said, he is only a little concerned about the traffic.

Visions of asphalt

"What we'd hate is for a field to become a parking lot," Irick said. "There's no reason for anyone to be anti-church [but] people around here seem to be suspicious that they're just acquiring the land to do something else."

Some neighbors envision asphalt meadows and a big church where there are now farmhouses, barns and rolling hills.

But Vincent M. Guida, the attorney representing the church, said that when the time comes for the church to erect a new building, the congregation will meet with neighbors to try to accommodate their requests about the design, size and location of the structure.

The church also would have to go through the zoning process again.

"They want to be good neighbors," Guida said. "They're happy to do whatever they can to please their neighbors."

Changes in plan

When the church realized that neighbors were opposing its zoning request, it withdrew a request for a variance on the property that would have allowed it to put seven parking spaces closer to the property line than is usually acceptable. The 21-space parking lot now will be closer to the middle of the property and concealed from neighbors' view.

Church members also have agreed not to use the back entrance on Green Dell Lane, a provision of the Department of Planning and Zoning's recent favorable recommendation.

The planning board will make its recommendation within 30 days.

Meanwhile, a public hearing will be held June 18 before the Board of Special Appeals, which will make the final decision on the church's request for an exception to use a farm for religious activity.

The hearing originally was scheduled for April 13 but was postponed when only two of the five appeals board members showed up.

Residents packed a hearing room at that time and spilled over into the hallway to express their concerns about traffic, noise, parking and the church's plans.

Several neighbors said they also were worried about water and septic use at the site, because the area is outside the county's water and sewer service area.

The attorneys said that is not an issue now because any additional water and septic use resulting from the current plan would be minimal.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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