Church's new plan to construct houses angers neighbors

Residents contend earlier agreement precludes home building

Pastor ready to go to court

June 24, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Despite a compromise reached last week, bad feelings remain between Covenant Baptist Church and its future Ellicott City neighbors.

Several days after withdrawing a controversial application to build a senior housing complex on their Centennial Lane property, church officials have said they instead plan to build 20 upscale single-family homes on the property -- in addition to a long-planned church and church school.

Neighbors aren't pleased.

"Nobody in the community is opposed to them building the church and school," said Len Busso, a nearby resident. "But we are not going to stand by and watch them turn into a developer."

But Darrell Baker, associate senior pastor of Covenant Baptist, said the church has the right to develop its land. He is threatening hardball measures if the neighbors put up too much of a fight.

"If the community is not OK with this, then I'm coming back with the original proposal," Baker said.

In that proposal, which was withdrawn this week, the church would build 90 senior housing units and a related senior complex on the 52-acre parcel.

Baker said he will go to court if the Howard County Council takes away the church's access to public water and sewer to prevent a housing development, as it had threatened to do recently.

The dispute isn't about housing so much as it is about trust, residents say.

Several years ago, the church applied for entry into the county's sewer and water district to save money in the construction of a church and church school. County officials, under the impression that the church would never build housing on the property, granted the request, opponents of the project say.

Baker said the church did not make that promise.

He said the church needs to build housing to pay for the church and school it plans to build.

If it were to build senior housing, he said, it would make about $1.8 million. It would make about $500,000 less by building 20 single-family homes, he said. He estimated the homes would sell for at least $400,000 each.

But some neighbors object to any housing on the property. Former state Sen. James Clark Jr., who owns land adjacent to the church land, testified before the Howard County Planning Board in April that he had helped the church gain entry into the public water and sewer district only after Covenant Baptist officials promised they would never allow housing there.

County Councilmen Guy J. Guzzone, a Democrat from southeastern Howard, and Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican from western Howard, introduced a bill several weeks ago to remove the church property from public water and sewer.

Late last week, church officials agreed to pull their plans for senior housing if Guzzone and Kittleman would withdraw their bill.

The situation is heating up again.

E. Alexander Adams, a lawyer for some of the neighbors who oppose Covenant Baptist's plan, said the church has the right to build housing on its property -- if it installs wells and a septic system instead of using public sewer and water.

"The county never would have given them water and sewer for residential use," he said. "If they try to use it for residential use, I'm not sure what the county's position is."

Kittleman and Guzzone both said they knew of the church's intent to submit revised plans for development when they agreed to withdraw their legislation Monday.

Both said the church plans are still in the beginning stages and need to go through a long process of county -- and citizen -- approval.

"I'm not saying they're wrong or right," Kittleman said. "They are entitled to look at all the different options available to them."

Neighbors remain outraged.

"Our position all along has been that the County Council granted water and sewer to Covenant Baptist Church specifically so they could build a church and school," said Cindy Feinstein, a committee member for Centennial Citizens for Responsible Development, which opposes housing on the church's property. "There was not a discussion of anything else. That's what they should build. If they've run into financial difficulties, that's not the problem of neighbors in this area."

"This is total insult to intelligence," Busso said. "As far as I'm concerned, we are going to fight them so that they will not get it."

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