Church plan may require zoning OK County planners say size of project calls for hearing

Residents hail ruling

Riverdale officials aim to win clearance by revising proposal

March 07, 1997|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

A Prince George's County congregation might be forced to seek special zoning permission to build its proposed complex on 41 acres in Davidsonville after all under a ruling by county planners.

Planners calculated that the amount of parking in the proposal by Riverdale Baptist Church and the size of the plan required a hearing, according to John A. Morris, spokesman for the Department of Planning and Code Enforcement.

Davidsonville residents opposed to what has been called a "megachurch" hailed the decision as a victory that would require the plans to be scrutinized at a public hearing. "This will at least now allow the residents an opportunity to protect their particular interests and voice their concerns about the impact of the development," said Doug Fierberg, a lawyer who is representing his neighbors in Davidsonville on the issue. "The project will not be built as a matter of right."

But a lawyer for the church played down the decision, saying a hearing is not definite. "They advised us that we needed to revise the plan further," said Edward O. Wayson, the lawyer. "We will go through the procedures that are ultimately required to get the church approved."

The church plan includes a 1,500-seat sanctuary, a meeting hall and 615 parking spaces to be built near U.S. 50 and Davidsonville Road.

The original proposal for a larger complex sparked so much community outrage that the church eliminated a "family life center" and basketball and racquetball courts from the plan.

The revised proposal split the parking spaces between a large main lot and an adjacent, 4- to 5-acre lot to make sure that the amount of parking on each site was less than the 100,000-square-foot threshold set in legislation adopted last year by the County Council in response to the Riverdale Baptist proposal.

The church applied for grading and construction permits last month. But in reviewing the applications, planners calculated that the amount of parking on each of the two lots exceeds the 100,000- square-foot threshold, Morris said. They also determined that the two lots would not be considered separately and thereby avoid the zoning hearing, because the parking on the second lot is "an accessory use to the church," he said.

Wayson and church officials will meet with planners to discuss their comments, Wayson said, and possibly come up with more revisions. The actual amount of parking is "somewhere in between" church calculations and county calculations, he said. And the smaller parking lot is not necessarily "accessory" to the church because the lot might be used for activities at an existing house on the property.

"Churches are permitted use in [a rural area] zone," Wayson said. "All we're talking about here is the size of the parking lot."

But for Davidsonville residents, the issue was whether neighbors had any say in the matter.

John Hovermale's home sits a half-mile from the proposed site and overlooks an intersection that would see much of the church traffic. "This is not necessarily against churches -- I'm a man of faith. It has to do with having RA land, rural areas, used for large developments," said Hovermale.

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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