Baltimore County has agreed to pay Hunt Valley Presbyterian Church $500,000 to settle a federal lawsuit alleging religious discrimination in a land-use case, according to a press release Wednesday.
The settlement specifies the payment is not an admission of wrongdoing, which the county denies.
The suit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act accused Baltimore County of implementing land-use regulations in a way that “required the Church to limit its ministry in ways that restrict the free exercise of its religious beliefs and practices” in order to construct a building expansion.
The church on Beaver Dam Road near Interstate 83 was trying to expand its facilities, saying current space doesn’t meet the congregation’s needs.
The county approved the church’s development plan with a number of conditions. It would have required the church to provide local residents who opposed the church’s expansion with two days’ notice of unscheduled events, space out its Sunday services with gaps of an hour and a half between services, and imposed conditions regarding water runoff.
According to the church’s complaint in federal court, those conditions would “burden the Church’s religious exercise.”
The settlement loosens those conditions, allowing the church to move forward with its expansion plans, according to church attorney Roman Storzer.
“The Church is excited to move forward with the next phase of its development,” Storzer said in a press release. “The new building will allow it to better serve its congregation and others through its various ministries.”
Baltimore County officials did not immediately return a request for comment.
Community members separately had pending legal cases against the church. Under the settlement terms, Hunt Valley Presbyterian will pay community members a confidential amount to settle those cases, compensating them for: “Any alleged past inconveniences/aggravations resulting from any alleged overburdening of a shared easement or driveway between Protestants and the Church and any future such inconveniences/aggravations resulting from the Church expansion.”
Other religious institutions — Chabad of Towson and Goucher, Hunt Valley Baptist Church, the Congregation ARIEL Russian Community Synagogue and Jesus Christ is the Answer Ministries Inc. — have filed lawsuits against Baltimore County on land-use discrimination grounds. Those cases are all pending in federal court.