Bethel AME Church officials are moving forward with plans for a 3,000-seat church in western Baltimore County, despite continued protests from neighbors.
Environmental and engineering studies show that the recently purchased 256-acre site in Granite is suitable for development, said Leronia A. Josey, Bethel's lawyer.
The site, on Old Court Road near its intersection with Dogwood Road, was bought from William F. Chew of Freeland last week, nine months after church leaders found the site, she said.
The 11,000-member African Methodist Episcopal church, one of the city's most influential congregations, has been trying to expand for years because its membership has outgrown the stately, 213-year-old structure on Druid Hill Avenue that seats about 1,700. Church leaders say they plan to continue operating at the Druid Hill Avenue site as they expand into the suburbs.
But the move to expand, announced last summer, set off a storm of opposition from neighbors worried about the possibility of traffic and ground water problems.
"The community thinks we're going to dump everything in there at once, and we're not going to do that," Josey said.
When completed, the complex would include offices, a media center, cafeteria, banquet hall, auditorium, gymnasium, credit union, library, classrooms, family life center and broadcast station.
Josey said she did not know when the church would begin construction. It must hire an architect and go through the county's development review process, which requires community meetings and public hearings before the project can be approved, she said.
She said the church will initially seek county approvals for only the first phase of its plan, which includes the church and a 1,500-space parking lot.
Josey said church officials met with community representatives Wednesday night at a session that was at times "hostile."
"We're still willing to work with them," she said. "We still hold out an olive branch to the community."
Robert Hocutt, president of the Greater Patapsco Community Alliance, said that Old Court Road, the winding, two-lane road leading to the site, would not be able to handle the traffic and that wells in the rural community could be damaged.
"When you look at all the factors involved, you have to wonder if its smart growth to put something like this in there," he said.
The site in Granite, a community of rolling hills and picturesque houses between Randallstown and the Howard County border, is zoned for low-density residential development and agricultural use, which would permit a church, county officials said.
Thomas Vidmar, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management, said engineers hired by Bethel have submitted plans showing the facility will draw 15,000 gallons of water a day.
They also have started drilling to find areas best suited for wells and have submitted results of soil tests showing that the site is suitable for a septic system, he said.
But he said that the project is "many months away" from being approved and that Bethel must address environmental issues, such as the facility's impact on forest buffers, the soil content, water quality and sewage capacity.
Pub Date: 3/30/99