Glenwood church gets zoning exception from Board of Appeals

The Howard County Board of Appeals, in a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, granted approval of a conditional use for a one-story, 13,800-square-foot church at the intersection of McKendree and Hobbs roads in Glenwood — plans opponents had argued are too intense for the site.

Chin Baptist Mission Church plans to move from its current home in rented space in Silver Spring to the 10-acre Glenwood property. The church needed the conditional use, or a special zoning exception, because the property is now zoned for rural residential use.

Glenwood residents — numbering over 150, according to opposition attorney Joan Becker — objected to the proposal largely because they believe the church will overburden their local roads with additional traffic it can't handle. They also raised concerns about the church not serving a need in the community, as most of its members will be coming from outside the area.

In voting to grant the conditional use, board member Henry Eigles noted: "I can't see that the additional traffic would be an unacceptable burden."

Board member John Lederer voted against the conditional use, saying it conflicts with the notion in the General Plan that non-residential uses should be allowed on a limited basis in the rural residential zoning district to serve a need in the community.

"If we're going to put this building here, it should serve the community," he said.

The Board of Appeals decision upholds Howard County Hearing Examiner Michele LeFaivre's 2011 decision to grant the conditional use.

"In this case, the preponderance of evidence establishes that the proposed religious facility and parking lot would not result in a facility that is larger and more intense than other approved religious facilities in the RR (rural residential) zone," LeFaivre concluded.

After the board's decision, Thomas Meachum, the church's attorney, said they're appreciative of the board's consideration of the evidence and the law.

"The church looks forward to being an active part of the community," he said.

Becker said their next step will be contemplating appealing the board's decision to the Circuit Court. They will have 30 days to file an appeal after the board issues its written decision and order.

"This case should not be viewed in a vacuum," Becker said during her closing arguments. "You need to look at the domino effect of this case on this intersection and on the surrounding community."

She said the church's plan contradicts the General Plan requirement that rural residential development be separate from the commercial crossroads.

"This is expanding the crossroads into the community," Becker said, expressing concerns about the precedent this decision will set for other non-residential development in the area.

Becker also noted that "the church is not needed to serve the local needs of the community," as most of its members live in Frederick Rockville, Silver Spring, northern Virginia, Laurel and Savage.

Meachum, meanwhile, argued that the church's proposal "would seem to be in harmony with the other uses in close proximity."

He added: "The road systems system serving this proposal is equal if not better than other road systems that the board has deemed (in other cases) to be acceptable."

The proposed site includes 120 parking spaces and two driveways, one off Hobbs Road and one off McKendree Road. The church is planning its facility to seat 350 people.

"These people would just like to get together, worship together like other churches, synagogues or mosques do in Howard County," Meachum said in his closing.

If the conditional use decision is not appealed, the church still has to file a site development plan to get building approval from the county, at which time a traffic study and other studies would be conducted.

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