Covenant Baptist leaders withdraw senior housing complex proposal

Tension between church, neighbors continues

June 20, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

In what might be only a temporary victory for its neighbors, Covenant Baptist Church has agreed to withdraw its plans to build a hotly contested senior housing complex on its Centennial Lane property in Ellicott City.

In exchange, Howard County Council members Guy J. Guzzone, a southern county Democrat, and Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Democrat, agreed Friday to withdraw a bill they introduced several weeks ago that would have removed the church from access to public sewer and water.

That means the church still could develop the property in other ways -- and as a result, the tension between the church and its neighbors continues.

And church officials say that in a worst-case scenario they may change their minds and reinstate their plans for senior housing, in addition to a long-planned church and school that the county has already approved. But some neighbors say the church should build only the church and school, because Covenant Baptist leaders said they would not build housing on the property when they sought access to public sewer and water several years ago.

Church officials deny making that promise or deceiving anybody -- but a feeling of mutual distrust lingers.

"I'm a little apprehensive," said Martha Anne Crist, who lives adjacent to the church property. She is the daughter of former state Sen. James Clark Jr., who testified before the Howard County Planning Board in April that he helped the church gain access to public sewer and water only after church officials assured him they would never build housing on the land.

"I have always felt very strongly that they have the right to build the church and the school, and that's what they've been planning to do all along," Crist said. "It's just the other development that bothers us."

But church officials say they still plan other development for the property. Darrell Baker, associate senior pastor, said the church is looking at a scaled-back development plan for the acreage, which is surrounded by fields. Baker would not divulge details of the new plans, but said the church would profit about $500,000 less by giving up plans for a senior housing complex.

He had said previously the church would profit about $1.8 million from the senior housing project.

Senior Pastor Danny M. Crow said the church would use any profits to build its long-planned church and school. But he said if neighbors don't cooperate with future development plans, the church will reintroduce its original proposal for senior housing units.

"I can say plainly, I've been grieved by some of the hard-line tactics that have forced some hard lines to be drawn," he said. "Personally, I don't like that. A church can't be held hostage.

"We're not going to give away the farm," he added. "We can't do that. These kinds of things are allowed. There was never a promise made that we would not develop that property."

Guzzone said he was "pleased" about the agreement Friday but added the church and neighbors still need to find a compromise.

"We need to continue to work out what is actually going to occur on that property," Guzzone said. "We need to bring everybody to the table, the community and the church, and resolve it in a way that is acceptable to everyone."

He said that if the church proposes any other development that angers neighbors, he will reintroduce a bill to remove church land from the public sewer and water district.

"I would do it all over again," Guzzone said. "Because the community was involved in the initial granting of sewer and water, the community needs to be involved in every step along the way."

Kittleman said he hopes future negotiations will be less rancorous. "Hopefully we can all be on the same page rather than being adversaries," he said.

Pub Date: 6/20/99

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