Plans for a church up­set Lutherville neigh­bors

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE - Pwood@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/pwoodreporter

fought past zon­ing bat­tles in north­ern Bal­ti­more County, are co­or­di­nat­ing the Save Sem­i­nary ef­fort, or­ga­niz­ing lead­ers from a dozen com­mu­nity as­so­ci­a­tions and about 100 res­i­dents in var­i­ous com­mit­tees tack­ling fundrais­ing, lawn signs and weekly con­fer­ence calls to co­or­di­nate strat­egy.

The group plans to turn out in force to­day when Bal­ti­more County gov­ern­ment hosts a com­mu­nity meet­ing on the church’s plans.

Danny O’Brien, a re­tired pas­tor who leads Grace Fel­low­ship’s build­ing com­mit­tee, de­clined to be in­ter­viewed but said in a state­ment the church hopes to find com­mon ground with neigh­bors as it goes through the county ap­proval process.

“We are com­mit­ted to work­ing to­gether with the com­mu­nity in a very con­struc­tive man­ner,” O’Brien wrote. “For over 35 years, we have had the priv­i­lege of serv­ing this com­mu­nity and we look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing to do so for years to come.”

County Coun­cil­man Wade Kach said he hoped the church and neigh­bors could reach an agree­ment, but he doesn’t be­lieve the two sides have se­ri­ously dis­cussed mat­ters.

Over the sum­mer, as the county was un­der­go­ing its qua­dren­nial re­view of zon­ing across the county, Kach re­jected a re­quest from op­po­nents of the church to put re­stric­tive zon­ing on the prop­erty, say­ing it would have se­verely di­min­ished the land value.

The prop­erty, com­monly called the Leidy prop­erty, is owned by a fam­ily trust based in New York state. It is val­ued at about $875,000 for tax pur­poses, ac­cord­ing to Signs planted along Falls Road in Lutherville op­pose the plans by Grace Fel­low­ship Church. state prop­erty records. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the own­ers could not be reached for com­ment.

Fried­man said the new zon­ing wouldn’t have blocked the church but would have lim­ited the area al­lowed to be paved to just 10 per­cent of the prop­erty.

Neigh­bors say that un­der the cur­rent plans the church, which would seat up to 1,200 peo­ple for each of its three week­end ser­vices, would put a strain on the aquifer that feeds the wells they use for drink­ing wa­ter. They also are con­cerned about runoff harm­ing Deep Run, a stream that runs along the prop­erty and even­tu­ally flows into the Jones Falls.

Kach, a Cock­eysville Repub­li­can, said he shares some of the neigh­bors’ con­cerns about traf­fic and the en­vi­ron­ment. He said the church has promised to use per­me­able sur­faces in parts of the park­ing lot, al­low­ing stormwa­ter to in­fil­trate into the ground in­stead of rush­ing off.

The church also showed him de­signs for berms and land­scap­ing along Sem­i­nary Av­enue, he said.

“I think it does sat­isfy some of the ma­jor con­cerns,” Kach said of the church de­sign.

If the two sides had been able to come to­gether, he said, “I think it may be a sit­u­a­tion where other con­cerns could have been brought up and so­lu­tions dis­cussed.”

“I be­lieve that peo­ple are rea­son­able,” he said. “I’m up­set that th­ese meet­ings never took place.”

For Grace Fel­low­ship, the cur­rent fight seems like deja vu. In 2008, the church pro­posed buy­ing the 30-acre Pado­nia Park Club to build a 150,000-square-foot church with a sanc­tu­ary that would have seat­ing for 2,500 wor­ship­pers.

Neigh­bors of the club raised sim­i­lar con­cerns as the Save Sem­i­nary group — that the church would in­crease traf­fic, af­fect wa­ter and sewer sys­tems and change the na­ture of their neigh­bor­hood.

The church ul­ti­mately pulled out of the deal, say­ing it had not raised enough money.

For its new pro­posal, Grace Fel­low­ship must sub­mit a fi­nal plan that would go be­fore a county ad­min­is­tra­tive judge who would de­cide whether it met county re­quire­ments. The judge’s rul­ing can be ap­pealed to the county’s Board of Ap­peals.

In a re­cent let­ter to church mem­bers posted on Grace Fel­low­ship’s web­site, O’Brien praised Kach’s re­cent de­ci­sion to re­tain the cur­rent zon­ing, and thanked mem­bers for their own lob­by­ing ef­forts.

He also urged mem­bers to keep the faith that a new church is on the way.

“We are con­fi­dent that, when all is said and done, we can de­velop a plan that meets our needs and that ad­dresses any rea­son­able con­cerns of oth­ers in the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity,” O’Brien wrote.

PAMELA WOOD/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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