Neighbors say they will oppose plans for large church center Site in Granite 'not suitable' for Bethel AME's plans

June 16, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Residents of Granite in southwestern Baltimore County said last night they would oppose any move by the 11,000-member Bethel AME Church to build in their tiny, historic town -- even as Bethel's congregants met in West Baltimore to discuss the expansion proposal.

"We believe that the proposed site is not suitable for the purposes of the church," said Bob Hocutt, president of the Greater Patapsco Community Association Inc., at a meeting of the association's board. "The site has severe environmental limitations and perhaps could not provide an adequate, safe water supply. Much of the soil is swampy and could not sustain adequate septic drainage."

Such opposition could stop the growing congregation's second attempt in a year to relocate to the county.

About 200 members of Bethel's congregation met at the Gothic church in the 1300 block of Druid Hill Ave. to hear the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, the pastor, outline plans for the expansion that would feature a 3,000-seat sanctuary, smaller chapels, a media center, gymnasium and health club.

Male members of Bethel and its Fruit of Jesus Security Force and guards from the Nation of Islam patrolled inside and outside the church during the meeting.

Church members were admonished not to comment publicly on what was discussed during the meeting.

"I will follow my pastor wherever he leads me -- and God's going to lead him," said Bethel member Ruth Plenty-Walls.

Another Bethel member, Everett Thompson, said of a possible move to the suburbs: "If the Lord can go everywhere with me, I can go anywhere with him."

Last November, Bethel officials withdrew a controversial plan to buy land in Owings Mills after discovering the site was too costly to develop.

The Granite parcel being considered by Bethel is zoned for low-density residential units and agricultural uses. A church would be permitted there, said Carl W. Richards Jr., a county zoning supervisor.

Meanwhile, Clint Coleman, spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, said the mayor had not discussed Bethel's latest plans with Reid, the mayor's stepbrother.

"I was aware that Reverend Reid was looking for land but we have not discussed Bethel's move since I showed him several options in the city," Schmoke said yesterday, through Coleman.

"But the mayor understands that if there are no sites in the city that meet the needs of the congregation as it grows, there's not much we can do," Coleman added.

The African Methodist Episcopal congregation has been trying to expand for years, after straining to fit into a 213-year-old sanctuary that seats about 1,700.

Pub Date: 6/16/98

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