Church OK'd amid protest

1,200-seat building too large for rural community, some say

September 25, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County hearing officer gave his blessing yesterday to plans for a 1,200-seat church along the border with Carroll County near Hampstead, but opponents said they will continue to fight the church's plans.

Carroll Community Church won permission to build along Route 91 at Mount Gilead Road if the church is limited to 1,200 seats, prohibits alcohol outdoors, does not light its athletic field and has no antennas or broadcast towers.

Pastor Joseph Duke said he agreed to all of the restrictions last month except the 1,200-seat limit. After yesterday's ruling, he said he would accept the size restriction.

"Overall, we're very pleased," he said.

But neighbors fighting the church say they are likely to appeal the ruling to the Baltimore County Board of Appeals, which could reverse the order.

"The restrictions they're talking about are not what the community would consider acceptable," said George Harman, president of the Hanover Road Association, a group of more than 100 neighbors.

He said the community had asked that the church be restricted to a 500-seat sanctuary.

Plans for large churches have sparked opposition in other parts of Baltimore County.

A request by Baltimore-based Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church for approval of a 3,000-seat church in Granite brought out more than 200 people last month to a public hearing in Woodlawn. Bethel has a year to submit development plans to county officials for review.

Carroll Community Church is a 12-year-old nondenominational Christian congregation that has been meeting at Liberty High School for several years. The Eldersburg congregation, which has 1,000 members, last year proposed building a 2,000-seat church on 68 acres at Route 91 and Mount Gilead Road.

Four acres of the parcel along Route 91 lie in Carroll County, while the other 64 acres are in Baltimore County.

Lawrence E. Schmidt, Baltimore County zoning commissioner, said in a 16-page ruling yesterday that a church as "massive" as one with 2,000 seats would be too much for the rural community and the roads serving it.

"The proposal as presented is simply too large in its size and scope," Schmidt wrote.

Neighbors say that even a 1,200-seat church is too large, considering the rural character of the area and the winding country roads that serve it.

"It'll overwhelm the area," Harman said.

Duke said he and other church officials hope to begin construction in one to two years and that construction would be completed in two stages.

The first phase would be construction of offices, classrooms and a gymnasium in which church services initially would be held. The second phase would include construction of the sanctuary, he said.

Pub Date: 9/25/99

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