A northeastern Baltimore County church has made concessions in its controversial plan for a large worship center in rural Kingsville, but opponents are still expected to challenge the proposal.
Grace Community Church's revamped plans for a 42,000-square-foot worship center -- expected to be filed today as part of the county's development review process -- include fewer buildings and parking spaces and a more traditional exterior.
The Rev. Greg Gill, pastor of Grace Community, said the changes reflect compromises reached after months of negotiations with Kingsville residents. Still, some area residents don't seem ready to drop their fight.
"The feeling in the community has not changed," Nancy Hastings, president of the Greater Kingsville Civic Association, said yesterday. "It's still thought of as too large."
The nondenominational evangelical church, with a membership of about 200 families, rents space in Perry Hall Middle School for worship services. Seeking a permanent home, Grace Community, like an increasing number of churches and synagogues, sought relatively inexpensive, rural land.
Tract cost $300,000
The church paid about $300,000 for a tract on Belair Road near Cheryl Avenue. The project's first phase would include a 500-seat sanctuary, followed by a balcony addition seating another 400, Gill said.
But like many proposals for large churches in rural areas, Grace Community's proposal drew immediate opposition.
Neighbors complained that the proposed building would be an unsightly, hulking landmark that would draw heavy traffic to the area. Also, Kingsville residents worried that the church might place heavy demands on well water.
Gill said the church's traffic studies and environmental tests have shown those concerns to be groundless.
The project was among those noted last year when the Baltimore County Council considered a bill to severely limit the size of new religious buildings in rural areas. But the bill was withdrawn after religious leaders called it too restrictive.
"These large churches are hitting these rural communities, and it has a significant impact on them," said Carroll Holzer, a lawyer who has represented the Kingsville community group and a group fighting plans for a large church in the Churchville area of Harford County. "Their size can take away from the rural ambience as much as a shopping center or large business operation."
Gill said the church has made several concessions. Most notable, he said, was an agreement to drop plans for a contemporary design that some opponents had described as "like a flying saucer," and to scrap plans for three buildings on the 16-acre site.
"We had to go back to the drawing board with our architect and see what we could design," Gill said. "It's more of a traditional-looking building, with a gabled front."
Redesign adds to price
Gill said the redesign added at least $200,000 to a project with an estimated cost of at least $3 million. He said the church also reduced the number of parking spaces from 468 to 270, and came up with a design to combine a sanctuary, offices, classrooms and, eventually, a gymnasium, within one building.
Grace Community must submit its plans today under a law that requires that they be filed within a year of the final "community input meeting" on the proposal, said Donald Rascoe, development manager for the county Office of Permits and Development Management. Three days of public hearings will likely be scheduled, Rascoe said yesterday.
Pub Date: 8/13/97