After they bought a large swath of land in Ellicott City for their new church in 2000, Glen Mar United Methodist Church leaders wanted to avoid a protracted battle with their future neighbors.
So they held community meetings over nearly two years, trying to devise a plan for the nearly 22 acres that would satisfy as many neighbors as possible.
The church has nearly made its proposal final and plans to submit it to the county in the next several weeks.
The question is whether its outreach will pay off with a quick approval.
"We've tried very hard ... and we are hopeful that everyone will appreciate [the plan]," said the Rev. Andy Lunt, Glen Mar's senior pastor. "But there's always the possibility that someone will have objections."
The church bought the land because it had outgrown its building on Glenmar Road. Folding chairs are needed for many Sunday services, and "you had better come real early" if you want a parking spot, said Al Hammer, the church's minister of administration.
The proposed multimillion-dollar project is likely to include a sanctuary seating nearly 750 that could also serve as a gym, a 475-space parking lot and classrooms for a weekday preschool. Area residents, even if they are not church members, will be welcome to use the facilities, Lunt said.
The church plans to propose adding a road to one side of the church to improve traffic.
County officials have praised certain aspects of the church plan, particularly the new street.
Two accidents have been reported at Route 103 and New Cut Road since 1998, according to preliminary data compiled by the Maryland State Highway Administration, but church and county officials say the road is dangerous. It banks up sharply from Route 103, making it difficult to see approaching traffic, they say.
County and church officials would like to create a cul-de-sac at the end of the road, then create a connection to Route 103 on the other side of the church.
"Relocating the road would be a win-win situation," said Joseph W. Rutter, Howard County's planning director.
Church officials have tried to make sure the changes would not disturb New Cut Road residents. They do not want street work to begin until a fruit stand on New Cut Road ceases operation. The stand's owners, James and Joan Baugher, are elderly and do not plan to operate the farm indefinitely.
Neighboring community groups say they appreciate the church's effort. Neighbors tend to get upset when they are "surprised" by developments and have no say in the plans before they go to the county for approval, said Cathi Higgins, secretary of the Ellicott City Residents' Association and president of the nearby Wheatfield Community Association.
"Anybody that doesn't know that Glen Mar is planning to put up a church has put their head in the sand," she said.
"I really don't see any problems," said Joan Baugher, who lives next to the proposed church. "They've done a good job."
Church leaders are hoping that enough residents will agree with Higgins and that the project will be quickly approved so that they can break ground late this year and finish the project within 12 to 18 months.
"Our goal is to have a positive impact on the community, and we're hoping that everyone will like what we've done," said Lunt, the senior pastor.