Hearing on church expansion runs short

Howard official's removal from case sought

March 04, 2003|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

A church striving for the past half-decade to become Howard County's largest - to the frustration of some neighbors - is back for another try after a tangled web of hearings and court appeals.

First Baptist Church of Guilford is hoping to triple its seating capacity to 1,502, part of a wave of expansions by churches in fast-growing Howard. First Baptist has a congregation of nearly 2,000.

More than 100 members of First Baptist and about a half-dozen neighbors with misgivings about the proposed expansion packed the county hearing examiner's meeting room last night, most of them standing because of the lack of space and angry about the tight squeeze.

They didn't have to stand long.

Two opponents of the expansion filed motions requesting that Hearing Examiner Thomas P. Carbo recuse himself from the case, alleging a conflict of interest because he represented the county when neighbors appealed an earlier vote on the proposal.

Carbo, saying the county Board of Appeals must decide whether to recuse him, promptly ended the hearing.

"All these tactics are well-designed to slow down the momentum," said the Rev. John L. Wright, First Baptist's pastor. "We're not discouraged. ... We're not going to sound the trumpet for retreat."

The church, built on 9 acres at Oakland Mills and Guilford roads, is surrounded by subdivisions. Some neighbors have argued that a 1,000-seat church would be more appropriate in the neighborhood than the larger one sought by First Baptist. Its current building seats about 500, Wright said.

"It's a long time, and I'm sure the church is impatient," said Oliver Edwards, a Guilford resident for 16 years who is helping lead the opposition.

"It seems appropriate that they should grow. When the neighborhood association sat down with the church to talk about their petition in 1998, we said that we could certainly support something that had a sanctuary for 1,000 and maybe 350 parking spaces. But this is a large, intense development. There's bound to be more traffic than an ordinary neighborhood church would generate."

. Last night, Wright said the church needs more space to prepare for growth in a county where growth seems inevitable.

"We're not really building this for us; we're building for the future," he said.

George W. Martin, who is president of the Columbia Cooperative Ministry and who tracks religious facilities' growth in Howard County, said he thinks the largest church in Howard County is Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City, which seats 980 and serves a parish of more than 12,000.

St. Louis Roman Catholic Church in Clarksville, which seats 650, is planning a building to accommodate more than 1,000 people.

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