Court sides with opponents of AME church

March 05, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The state's second-highest court sided yesterday with a Baltimore County citizens' group opposing plans by Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church to build a 3,000-seat sanctuary in rural Granite.

The Court of Special Appeals said a county Circuit Court judge erred in dismissing an appeal filed by the Greater Patapsco Valley Association in February last year.

But both sides in the battle over the $10 million church proposed for Old Court Road said yesterday's ruling would have little effect because each has other appeals pending in Circuit Court.

The association opposed the Baltimore County zoning commissioner's decision to reopen a hearing on how the new church would affect traffic. The group took its objection to Circuit Court, where a judge refused to hear it. Yesterday, the Court of Special Appeals remanded the issue to Circuit Court.

"When it says the court is supposed to hear you, the court is supposed to hear you," said Kathleen S. Skullney, an attorney who works with the association.

Representatives for the church played down the ruling, noting that both sides are appealing the county Board of Appeals' approval of the project in December.

The association wants that approval overturned. Bethel AME objects to board stipulations for a study of gravesites because state law requires graves to be moved properly, church attorneys said.

"Substantively, I'm not sure that it's very meaningful," Robert A. Hoffman, the attorney representing Bethel AME, said of yesterday's ruling.

Granite residents have complained that the church will add as many as 1,100 cars to area roads on Sunday afternoons.

Bethel has been on a three-year quest to build on the 255-acre Granite site. The church, with a congregation of 11,000, says it has outgrown its city building, though it will keep a Baltimore presence.

Although attorneys said yesterday's ruling meant little in the fight, it pleased Rosalyn Roddy, a member of the citizens' association. "It feels good to win one little morsel," she said.

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