Church traffic ties up Granite road AME Bethel plans raise congestion fears on Old Court Road

June 22, 1998|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

As church services started yesterday morning, thousands of faithful flocked to the string of six churches along Old Court Road near Randallstown, clogging the narrow, two-lane country road in places and creating an unholy feeling of gridlock.

It was a normal traffic flow on the Lord's Day for the Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Presbyterians and Roman Catholics who worship in the small Liberty Manor and Granite neighborhoods.

Many shuddered trying to imagine what would happen to traffic if the 11,000-member Bethel AME Church were to move to Granite -- an action being explored by the influential West Baltimore church.

"It would be like a huge stopper in the road," said Carl Yowell, who has lived in the Granite area for 40 years. "The only blessing in disguise would be it would only be twice a week."

If Bethel officials decide to build a 3,000-seat sanctuary on 256 acres near Old Court and Dogwood roads, residents like Yowell say it will forever change the character of their historic community bordering Patapsco Valley State Park.

Already, some residents say they don't drive unless they have to on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings because of traffic tie-ups near the New Antioch Baptist Church of Randallstown, where church members use walkie-talkies to direct hundreds of vehicles.

Nearly 500 cars filled the parking lots of the Granite area churches yesterday with most at New Antioch Baptist's two lots. The other churches are Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, Second Church of Christ, Scientist, Granite Presbyterian Church, St. Alphonsus Rodriguez Catholic Church and a small Baptist church in Granite.

One member of New Antioch, Ron Coleman, said yesterday that traffic is not a problem. "The churches let out at different times and it doesn't take that long to get out of here," he said.

Darrell Wiles, Baltimore County's chief traffic engineer, said Friday that traffic counts for Old Court Road near Liberty Manor have never been done -- but soon may be.

County Council Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, who represents the district, said he plans to meet with Bethel's pastor, the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, on July 1 to discuss the church's expansion plans. Those plans include a large sanctuary, offices, a cafeteria and banquet hall, auditorium, gymnasium and health club.

"My concern continues to be the traffic on what are narrow double-lane roads, the environmental and the fact that there is no water and sewer other than septic and wells at the site," Moxley said. "The framers of the county's zoning laws never anticipated these mega-churches being located in rural conservation areas."

The property purchased by Bethel earlier this month -- contingent on a feasibility study of the plans -- is zoned to allow a church, said W. Carl Richards Jr., the county's zoning director.

But to David Gaines, assistant to the pastor at 4,000-member New Antioch Baptist, Bethel's expansion plans could cause more than traffic woes.

"When we got news that Bethel was moving here, I sensed an encroachment," Gaines said. "I don't want to sound negative but I pray that the Lord is fueling the desire to be here. We will overlap, not that we need to have a control over this market. I trust and pray they are trying not to siphon off members of other churches."

"We do want Christ's church to grow. At the same time we want to be careful we're not competing for the same interests and the same group of people."

Such internal concerns won't affect Susan Brantley, who lives in the 9800 block of Old Court Road. She just wants convenience and says she must wait for up to 10 minutes at times for traffic to clear during church hours.

Paul W. Dorsey, who lives on Windsor Mill Road, said he wonders about access to the Bethel site.

"I've lived in the county since 1940 and I feel I have the right to speak my mind," Dorsey said. "The expense is going to be fierce to take care of the roads. These are old roads, they are not built for that and cannot accept that. If anything is done, it will be our tax dollars that will go to build a new road for their convenience.

"I'm opposed to it -- not the church, but the trouble it's going to create," he added. "This is farmland and the roads were created to accommodate that."

Pub Date: 6/22/98

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