Owings Mills residents oppose building church in neighborhood

Plans are called `invasive'

zoning hearing set Oct. 23

October 08, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

When Phyllis B. Brotman heard last fall that the Rev. Thomas Cobb had bought a brick, four-bedroom house on McDonogh Road in Owings Mills and planned to build a church on the surrounding property, she paid him a visit.

Brotman's message was simple. First, the president of the McDonogh-Field Association wanted to welcome Cobb and his family to the area. Next, she told him that if the neighborhood association had its way, his church would never get built.

Brotman, who has lived in the area for 42 years, called the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle Church's plans to build a 300-seat sanctuary, day-care center and Christian school on 7.8 acres in the Lyon Acres development "an invasion of privacy." She also said the project would bring unwanted traffic to an already busy area.

"I'm for religion, but I'm not for any church or religious institution that is part of a residential community," she said. "The buildings are huge. It's invasive, just plain invasive."

But Cobb says the project is necessary to keep the church alive that he founded in 1980. The congregation's former home in Hampden was nearly destroyed by fire in 1999. Since then, services have been held in temporary locations, and membership, which once stood at 120, has dwindled to about 60.

"We looked for property either in Baltimore County or Baltimore City for three years," said Cobb, who noted that congregation members live in both areas. "We were trying to find a place to serve all of our members."

The church's plans will be the topic of county zoning hearings scheduled for Oct. 23 and 30.

David Green, the county Planning Department's manager for the project, said a church is a permitted use on the land, which is zoned residential, but the congregation will have to submit a site plan and obtain county approvals to build.

The congregation, affiliated with the United Pentecostal International Church, bought the land - and the home where Cobb and his family live - last year for $320,000, according to state assessment records. Since then, Cobb estimates, an additional $100,000 has been spent on improvements.

The church wants to build a sanctuary and three other buildings totaling 22,800 square feet. The buildings would be constructed in four phases, over a period as long as 20 years.

The neighborhood association includes 46 houses set in a wooded area between Reisterstown Road and Interstate 795. They range from ranches and capes of one to 12 acres.

At two community meetings earlier this year, residents expressed concern about Cobb's plan to offer substance abuse counseling to members through the church and pointed out that none of the members lived in the neighborhood.

Cobb responded by saying the church had no intention of opening a drug rehabilitation clinic and that he only wants to minister to his congregation's needs. "We are not a clinic," he said. "The only thing we serve is Jesus."

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