Congregation to clean site, but building plans delayed

County hearing needed to OK construction of school, synagogue

November 02, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Har Sinai congregation may begin cleaning up a former dump site in the Worthington Valley where it wants to build a synagogue and a school, but it can't start construction until after a court hearing, a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday.

"A cleanup of the site, as long as it's done within the regulations, is in everyone's best interest," said Judge Laurence R. Daniels.

Representatives of the congregation and the community expressed satisfaction with ruling.

"It's a decision the community can be pleased with," said Stuart D. Kaplow, a lawyer representing neighbors who oppose the development.

"We are delighted with the judge's ruling and that he has expressed confidence in us to go forward in the cleanup," said Har Sinai president Harold Burgin.

Har Sinai, the nation's oldest Reform Jewish congregation, wants to move from Park Heights Avenue in Baltimore to fast-growing northwest Baltimore County to be closer to many of its members. The congregation wants to build a 62,500-square-foot synagogue, day care center and school at Greenspring and Walnut avenues.

The proposal became a hotly debated topic in the county, prompting seven days of hearings this year.

The county has approved the plan, but residents of the area are challenging it in court, with a hearing scheduled for January.

Neighbors contend that Har Sinai's development plan was improper, and that the day care center would be an illegal commercial use of the 17-acre parcel zoned for rural conservation. They also have expressed concern that the large facility could harm local wells.

Daniels warned that Har Sinai should not use the cleanup as an excuse to prepare the building site for construction. That work, he said, must await a court ruling after both sides have had a chance to debate the development's legality. The judge also told Har Sinai that the cleanup work must be confined to the 2 acres that experts have identified as being contaminated. While most of the debris is harmless trash, studies have found polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and metals such as arsenic on the site.

Although a grading permit issued by the county on Friday allows for extensive preparation of the site, Burgin said yesterday that Har Sinai must limit its grading until after the hearing.

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