Wanted: Home for church, with friendly neighbors

April 21, 1999|By GREGORY KANE

HEAD WEST ON Liberty Road from the city, hang a left on Old Court Road and follow it for several miles and you'll come to the bucolic western Baltimore County community of Granite.

A couple of miles past the intersection of Old Court and Dogwood roads you'll find Granite Presbyterian Church. That's where Granite residents gathered a week and two days ago to discuss how they would persuade the guy who wants to build, in their words, a "mega-church" in their community to take his proposed edifice elsewhere.

The guy is Frank Reid, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which has a building right here in the city on Druid Hill Avenue. But half of Reid's overflowing congregation lives in Baltimore County. An additional Bethel church near the Randalls- town area would make the commute of some parishioners easier, not to mention alleviate a parking headache.

Just find somewhere other than here to put it, Granite residents urged at the April 12 meeting of their neighborhood organization, the Greater Patapsco Community Association.

"Just about every road in this area is going to be used," warned GPCA President Bob Hocutt, alluding to the traffic situation that Granite residents are sure will become nightmarish if the new Bethel is built in their community.

Snarled Sunday -- and possibly holiday -- traffic is only one concern. Several residents expressed dismay that Bethel will siphon water from the wells outside the homes they've lived in for years.

"There are going to be super-deep wells compared to what the rest of us have," Hocutt predicted. He said Bethel has drilled three or four wells hundreds of feet deep on the property it recently purchased. A man who lives next to the property has a 60-foot well.

One woman read a letter that will be sent to county officials informing them that, during a summer drought, Granite's water supply already reaches low levels. What will happen when Bethel with its super-deep wells gets up and running?

Others in attendance charged that County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger had sold Granite out, that the community had become a dumping ground for things more affluent Baltimore County areas didn't want and that among those undesirable things was Reid's proposed church, which may eventually include offices, a media center and a banquet hall.

How do you keep your neighborhood from becoming a dumping ground? GPCA members voted to put up the money to hire lawyers and experts who would study the proposed church's impact on traffic and the environment. Hocutt said they would need $25,000 to start, but Craig Sigismondi suggested that a lot more might be needed.

"The politicians look at this area as not a lot of votes," Sigismondi said. "We need to spend some additional money. We need to hire a public relations firm. If we attack Reverend Reid, we'll never win. He's smart, he's got money, he's got politicians." Sigismondi suggested residents should focus their attack on Ruppersberger.

"I didn't move out here to encompass traffic on a Sunday," he added.

Take a ride south along Old Court Road and you'll see Sigismondi's point. Once you get past Windsor Mill Road the traffic is light, the driving easy and the neighborhood quiet. The area will still be quiet if Reid builds his proposed 3,000-seat church there. Bethel members aren't known for being a rowdy bunch. But the light traffic that lured Sigismondi and others to Granite may be a thing of the past.

There has to be a Baltimore County community that will welcome Reid and his congregation with open arms. There was some prime land just west of the Carriage Hills apartment complex that would have been ideal. Unfortunately, it's been taken. Developers have started building homes on both sides of the street.

Here in the city there may be an entire block for the taking. The 5300 block of Denmore Ave., previously the site of the notorious Denmore Apartments where open drug dealing and drug use took place in broad daylight, is now mostly a vacant lot. The sight of a new Bethel there just might literally put the fear of God in neighborhood drug dealers. But locating a second Bethel on Denmore Avenue would not solve the commuting needs of Bethel's Baltimore County members.

"We have always been and will continue to be good neighbors," an unidentified Bethel woman said at the GPCA meeting. She's no doubt telling the truth. But it's still a shame that Reid and county officials couldn't find a better place for Bethel II other than the proudly undeveloped community of Granite.

Pub Date: 04/21/99

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