Hearing is postponed for Bethel church in Granite

September 17, 2001|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

More than a year ago, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church ran a newspaper advertisement seeking someone to supervise construction of a $10 million sanctuary on Old Court Road in rural Granite.

But groundbreaking for the church, which would occupy 2 acres of a 255-acre site and seat 3,000 worshippers, has been repeatedly delayed through a series of zoning hearings at which neighbors raised objections to the project. They worry that traffic from the church will clog the two-lane thoroughfare, drain local wells, and shatter the tranquillity of the picturesque community in western Baltimore County.

Last week, the project encountered a new delay when the county Board of Appeals postponed a hearing on the case because of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

In May, Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt approved the Bethel project, saying that a church is a permitted use on the site.

The Greater Patapsco Community Association, which had asked the county to scale back the size of the church, appealed Schmidt's decision. The board was to have heard arguments Tuesday.

After the recent postponement, Robert A. Hoffman, the lawyer for the congregation, and community opponents agreed to file written memos with the board. Oral arguments will be heard Nov. 13. The board is to issue a written decision within 45 days of that hearing.

In October, when Schmidt was due to make a decision in the case, he instead called for more hearings to allow the church to update its traffic studies.

Granite community leaders went to Circuit Court in an unsuccessful attempt to stop Schmidt from giving the church more time to bolster its case. That case is now pending before the Court of Special Appeals, said Paul Dorsey, president of the Greater Patapsco Community Association.

Bethel's traffic consultants subsequently presented a study to Schmidt showing that Old Court Road could withstand the extra traffic generated by the church.

A traffic expert hired by the community, however, concluded that the road could be overburdened. County law requires no independent traffic study.

Community leaders have criticized Schmidt for failing to take into account other developments under way near the Bethel site when evaluating potential traffic problems. The largest project, about two miles east on Old Court Road, involves New Antioch Baptist Church of Randallstown, which is building a 2,450-seat church near Windsor Mill Road.

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