Church wants old factory for worship Council considers zoning change in industrial area

Meeting set for Oct. 7

Congregation has been holding its services in school auditorium

September 22, 1998|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

A Westminster congregation wants to turn a former mattress factory in New Windsor into a church, but its plan requires the blessing of the New Windsor Town Council.

The council must decide whether to change the town zoning law to allow churches in industrial areas. A zoning change would end the New Life Foursquare Gospel Church's decade-long search for a home, but would reduce the acreage available in New Windsor for industrial development.

The council is scheduled to discuss whether to allow the zoning change at its Oct. 7 meeting.

The church wants to move into a 26,000-square-foot building on a 9.2-acre site in the 1000 block of Tibbetts Lane, owned by a Landover-based sofa bed manufacturer. The owner, AW Industries Inc., closed the mattress factory four years ago.

The rectangular gray building is for sale for $895,000. It is leased to a Baltimore plastic thermoform company, said Walter Patton, a KLNB Realtors Inc. sales representative. The company has equipment in the building, but has not used it for the plastics operation, he said. He declined to identify the company.

The factory would be "very suitable" for conversion to a church, said the Rev. William G. Thomas, senior pastor of Foursquare Gospel Church.

"We would like a permanent place to worship. We've been at the Westminster High School auditorium for well over 10 years now," he said.

Thomas said other congregations in the denomination have successfully converted buildings to churches.

Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. said the issue facing the New Windsor council is: "Do we want to make church use allowable in an industrial zone? Would the result of that be something we want to do in conformance with our master plan?"

The 52-acre Tibbetts Lane Industrial Park, which is home to Ryland Building Systems, in addition to the vacant mattress factory, has public water. The town and county began a joint study on extending public sewer services to the industrial park five months ago. The property is also served by rail, Gullo said.

If the council opts to change the zoning law, it could make churches a permitted use in industrial areas, which would allow any church to buy or build there. Or the council could make churches a conditional use in industrial zones, which would require a zoning board of appeals hearing for congregations seeking to locate in industrial areas.

Industry isn't beating down the door to locate in small towns, Thomas said. He said the church has not contracted to purchase the property because the owner wants to keep it on the market while awaiting a possible zoning change.

Thomas said the congregation plans to use a third of the building initially, giving the plastics operation and another tenant using a subleased area for storage time to find other quarters. He said the congregation bought a 5-acre site off Route 31 several years ago in hopes of building a church but found the site too small for the building needed to serve a growing membership.

Thomas said attendance at weekly services at Westminster High School averages 150 to 200 people.

The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, a Pentecostal denomination, was founded in 1923 by Aimee Semple McPherson, the first female radio evangelist.

The church's name is based on a vision McPherson had of four symbols -- a cross, a crown, a dove and a cup -- which she believed represented regeneration of the church, the second coming of Christ, baptism in the spirit and divine healing.

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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