Loophole to drive a church through Magnitude of Riverdale Baptist project merits greater review.

March 03, 1997

RIVERDALE BAPTIST CHURCH believes that it has made significant concessions to the southern Anne Arundel community of Davidsonville by scaling back its project. It is dropping plans to build a family life and recreation center and reducing the amount of parking.

Because of those changes, the church also now doesn't require a special exception hearing by the county. This exploitation of a loophole is grossly unfair to the current residents.

After much conflict over the issue, the County Council this winter passed Bill 93-96 to ensure that when large, non-profit organizations move into rural areas, there would be community participation and county oversight.

Riverdale Baptist vigorously opposed the bill, but lost. Rather than endure the review process, the church has decided to circumvent the spirit of the new zoning law. By eliminating two large buildings, it has reduced its parking requirements. Nevertheless, the project will require 651 spaces, which will convert farm acreage into large expanses of asphalt.

To guarantee no hearing, the church also moved 351 spaces onto the second of two parcels it is purchasing. By dividing its parking, the church will not reach the thresholds that trigger the special exception rule. To begin construction on this massive multi-acre development in a quiet rural neighborhood, Riverdale Baptist needs only routine county approvals.

Considering the extraordinary impact of this project, more community and county participation is warranted. Siting buildings and parking are critical issues that won't be addressed under the current process.

All the parking is clustered on the edge of the property near existing homes. At least two houses will have views of parking lots as large as those typically found in shopping centers. There are no attempts to screen these lots or locate them far from the property line.

Because of its size, the Riverdale project should still be subject to some scrutiny. In addition, the county should have the power to impose certain requirements -- such as planting evergreen screens around parking lots -- to ensure that its presence in the neighborhood is as unobtrusive as possible.

Without a special exception hearing, that won't happen.

Pub Date: 3/03/97

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