Oaklands Presbyterian Church in South Laurel has a parish of about 140 area residents. It serves the Laurel area with a food pantry, a Boy Scout troop, a tutoring program and transitional housing.
But the church is not technically part of the municipal city of Laurel, something that may soon change.
Oaklands Presbyterian has petitioned the city to have its roughly 5 acres annexed into the city limits, a move that would benefit the church as well as Laurel, said interim pastor the Rev. Margee Iddings.
"We're one of the last little parcels of land around the city that is not part of the city," Iddings said. "This will give us a niche. We'll all be on the same page as our neighbors. We, as a congregation, have been doing quite a bit of service for Laurel over the years. We feel like that's where our loyalty is."
Located on Laurel-Bowie Road, the church's grounds — and all the property to be annexed — include the church, a parking lot and a wooded area across from the lot, all totaling a little less than 5 acres, said B.J. Taylor, church elder.
A public hearing was held on the move last month, and the annexation is on the agenda for the City Council's Monday, July 9, meeting and the Planning Commission's meeting on Tuesday, July 10. After that, Iddings said, annexation could be "a done deal."
"There was (no opposition) that we know of," Iddings said. "I don't think this is a contentious issue."
"Strictly in a financial basis, it does not benefit (the city), but we have annexed other houses of worship in the past, and will likely annex houses of worship in the future," said Karl Brendle, the city's director of community planning and business services. "We're house-of-worship-friendly."
Iddings said discussions on annexation began about six months ago, when a church committee began exploring options for the wooded property — owned by Oaklands — across the parking lot from the church.
"We've been talking about how we might productively use it, rather than let it sit fallow," Iddings said. "It's just woods, and as we began to explore options for what we might do with that land, we discovered we would have to have our zoning changed."
Iddings said the land could eventually be used for garden plots or subsidized housing built in conjunction with the city.
"Those ideas emerged as the committee looked at what we might do, and the city came in and said, have you thought about x, y and z?" Iddings said. "Maybe we can do something together, and that's a very exciting prospect for us, to have a long-term prospect, and to not be doing it alone."
The church purchased the wooded property about 45 years ago, Iddings said, and it is currently zoned as residential. An annexation would not only add the church's property to the city, but update the zoning as well, to "current zoning conducive to the area," Taylor said.
Both church and city could benefit
This is not the first time the church has explored being annexed by the city, Taylor said. Annexation efforts about 10 to 15 years ago fell through, he said, and at the time, the city saw no benefit to annexing the church.
"There was just no benefit for the city at that time," Taylor said. "Being a church, there's no taxes involved, no financial benefit. But since then, Laurel has changed its outlook and realized the church offers a benefit to the community, if not a financial benefit."
Oaklands Presbyterian has a multitude of service programs, Taylor and Iddings said. The food pantry currently serves more than 40 families a month. The church offers tutoring programs at Laurel middle and high schools, and some of those students participate in the Boy Scout troop that meets at the church.
The church also provides an on-site transitional housing apartment, Iddings said, run in collaboration with Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services. Taylor said one family is currently living in the apartment.
"For such a small church, we offer a lot of services that benefit the residents of Laurel," Taylor said.
Annexation would also be of benefit for the church, Iddings said.
"There are some advantages that will be very practical," she said. "We will have coverage by city police and the city Fire Department, so the accessibility there will be greater. And right now, we have to pay to have our trash and recycling removed, and the city provides that service."
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Taylor said a fee of "about $3,400" was associated with applying for annexation; the church could make up that money within about two years, he said, just from not having to pay for trash and recycling.