Engineer says new church would crowd Old Court Road

Contradicts earlier study that says new sanctuary won't overburden area

March 10, 2001|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

A traffic engineer hired by Granite residents who are trying to scale back plans for a 3,000-seat church in their rural community, testified yesterday that Old Court Road would be overcrowded - by state standards - when the church lets out on Sunday afternoons.

C. Edward Walter's testimony contradicted a study presented earlier this week by a traffic engineer hired by Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The study concluded that the new sanctuary would not overburden Old Court Road, a two-lane thoroughfare.

Walter told Baltimore County Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt yesterday that projected traffic levels would be "over capacity" from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays, when more than 800 cars would leave the parking lot at the new church.

Bethel AME, a prominent Baltimore congregation, wants to build a $10 million structure on 255 acres in Granite, between Randallstown and the Howard County line. All traffic going to and leaving the church would have to use Old Court Road.

Because Bethel AME meets zoning requirements for the property, Schmidt cannot reject the proposed development, but he can scale back its size.

Walter criticized a traffic study paid for by Bethel AME. The study found that current Sunday traffic counts on Old Court Road have not changed significantly from counts taken in the spring of 1999 and the fall of 2000.

Walter said the most recent count showed an annual increase in traffic volume of 19 percent. "This is not insignificant," he said.

The Bethel study was conducted by the Traffic Group, whose president, John W. Guckert, testified at a hearing Tuesday that increased traffic from the church would leave Old Court Road at 70 percent of capacity, an acceptable level by state standards.

An independent traffic study is not required by county law.

On Tuesday, Schmidt refused to allow testimony from the Greater Patapsco Community Association, which opposes Bethel AME's plans, detailing other development proposals along Old Court Road that could add more traffic.

Schmidt told Francis X. Borgerding, lawyer for the community group, that the county code does not require him to hear evidence of other proposed developments. Such evidence would be "so speculative, I don't know how it helps me," he added.

Schmidt will hear more testimony on the Bethel case at 1 p.m. March 28 in Room 106 of the County Office Building, 111 W. Chesapeake Ave. in Towson.

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