City church renews bid to move into new home

AME group's revised plan tackles parking concerns

Prior proposal rejected in Sept.

December 31, 2003|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

One of Baltimore's fastest-growing churches is renewing its bid to build a home of its own four months after city zoning officials shot it down, proposing a scaled-down plan that would use shuttle buses to ease a parking shortage.

Empowerment Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church, whose 5,000 members meet in the auditorium of Walbrook High Uniform Services Academy in West Baltimore, wants to open a 1,700-seat church at 4221 Primrose Ave. in Northwest Baltimore.

There would be 55 on-site parking spaces, but the church would supplement that with lots leased from area businesses. Shuttle buses would be used to transport churchgoers to and from some of the lots, which are all within a mile of the proposed church, said Allen C. Price of AP & Co., who is working for Empowerment Temple as a consultant on the project.

"Every church in Baltimore City has no parking in terms of what they need for their congregation," Price said.

The city's Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals will hold a hearing on the matter Tuesday.

The pastor is the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, who could not be reached for comment.

On Sept. 16, the board rejected Empowerment Temple's application to create a 2,200-seat church at the site, which has been used as a church by Living Word Christian Center.

Although the exterior of the building would not have changed, Empowerment Temple would have expanded capacity from the current 850 seats, creating a need for more parking.

In addition to the 55 on-site spots, the original plan also included letters from area businesses stating they would allow churchgoers to park in their lots. But formal long-term lease agreements had not been arranged, as required under local regulations, Price said.

The first plan had the support of Del. Jill P. Carter and City Council President Sheila Dixon, who wrote letters to the board on the church's behalf.

But the nearby Forum Caterers, the Northwest Baltimore Corp., the Glen Neighborhood Improvement Association and City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector objected, saying the expansion would create severe parking problems.

The board agreed that the first plan did not include enough parking and rejected it.

The new plan calls for about 900 parking spaces, all but 55 of them off site. The church is asking for a variance because those off-site spaces are not within 300 feet of the property line, as required by local regulations. The church has worked out long-term lease agreements with owners of the lots, Price said.

Spector and officials with Forum Caterers, the Northwest Baltimore Corp. and Glen Neighborhood Improvement Association could not be reached to comment on the new plan.

But Price said the changes seem to have satisfied neighbors, "who will be working with the church to resolve any issues out there."

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