Residents to appeal ruling on church plan

Board approves petition for expansion of building

size of project objected to


January 22, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Neighbors of St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in Savage plan to appeal a decision by the county Board of Appeals to approve an expansion of the church that they feel would tower over their single-family homes.

The board voted 3-to-1 yesterday evening in favor of approving a conditional-use petition for the 11,400-square-feet reconstruction of the church at Lincoln and Woodward streets.

Board members James Pfefferkorn, Albert J. Hayes and Pat Patterson voted to approve the plan and grant the variance with conditions listed in the recommendation from the Department of Planning and Zoning's evaluation.

Board Chairman Robert C. Sharps voted to approve the conditional-use request but deny the variance. Board member Jacqueline Scott was absent.

The 150 families that make up St. Mary Coptic, which purchased the existing church building and property eight years ago, wanted to construct the estimated $1.7 million addition to provide instructional space and to bring the building in line with their Egyptian Christian religion's practice.

Residents said they feared that the new facade, with proposed steeples topped by domes soaring more than 50 feet into the sky, would block views of Historic Savage Mill and decrease their property values.

Because the addition would increase the seating capacity from 168 to 216, additional parking spaces would be required to meet county regulations.

The church originally applied for a zoning exception that would have permitted it to build a parking lot to the edge of its property on the west side to accommodate that need.

Revised plan

The hearing examiner approved the conditional use but denied the variance for parking in June.

Last night the Board of Appeals approved a revised plan submitted by the church that which placed the parking area three feet inside the property line and added a fence.

Thomas Fincham, who led the group of residents that raised the appeal, lives on the north side of the church property. He said the group will appeal to the Circuit Court of Howard County.

"If I lose there, I'll sell my home," Fincham said.

Other residents said the conflict could have been resolved before it reached the appeals stage.

Brian Bowers, who lives on Woodward Street, said the church should have discussed its plans before the Savage Community Association.

"We like the church there," he said. "They are good neighbors."

Reconciliation sought

The Rev. Guirguis A. Gobrail, the church's priest, said the congregation would begin work right away but that reconciling with the church's neighbors is a priority.

The church has worked in the past to rectify concerns that the community had with the church's physical plant, and Gobrail said he is confident that they will be able to work together again.

"We'll try to find out a better way, I think. The friendly way is the best one," Gobrail said. "The building itself will not get us into the kingdom of God. We'll try to listen to them to try to make it friendly, not in court."

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