Church cuts scope of expansion plans

First Baptist drops community center

May 21, 1999|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

First Baptist Church of Guilford has scaled back its proposal for expanding the church complex in the 7400 block of Oakland Mills Road.

Robert H. Levan, a lawyer for the church, said yesterday that the church's board of trustees voted recently not to accept a $300,000 state matching grant to build a community center, and to reduce the number of seats in the proposed new sanctuary and the number of parking spaces.

The General Assembly approved the community center grant -- which requires the church to match the money -- in this year's session after a debate during which some lawmakers and residents argued that using government funds to support or build a center on the property of a religious institution violated the separation of church and state.

The church submitted its new plans to the county Department of Planning and Zoning last week.

For more than a year, Guilford residents have opposed the expansion, which was to include a 1,938-seat sanctuary and 636 parking spaces, saying it would create traffic problems in the neighborhood.

The revised plan calls for a 1,500-seat sanctuary and 100 fewer parking spaces. The 96-year-old church now has 400 seats.

"What's involved now is generally the same footprint with no formal community center," Levan said. "The activities held at the church would be typical of events that any church would host."

It is unclear why the church decided to abandon the community center plan.

Levan refused to speculate on the reason behind the church's decision. The Rev. John L. Wright, the pastor, could not be reached yesterday.

Guilford residents said they are pleased that the church has decided to scale back its plans but concerned that the complex would still be too big.

"This is going in the right direction, but the church is still really too big for a residential area," said Oliver Edwards, vice president of the Oak Ridge Homeowners Association.

Negotiations between the community and the church never got off the ground after the community insisted that the church reduce its seating capacity to 900 and reduce the size of the building.

"I like this better than what I saw before," said Paul Biermann, a Guilford resident, "I wish this was half the size and that everything was scaled back, including the structure."

Joseph W. Rutter, the county director of planning and zoning, said the new plan submitted by the church is to be presented to the planning board July 14.

The church has challenged in Howard County Circuit Court a March 4 decision of the Board of Appeals to dismiss the church's original plan after giving the church the go-ahead.

Sun staff writer Christian Ewell contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 5/21/99

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