Church gets go-ahead for building Ivy Hill residents raised objections

Suburban sprawl has so tattered the rural character of the Ivy Hill area, near Oregon Ridge Park, that the Baltimore County Board of Appeals has decided to allow construction of most of a church complex area residents argued was too big.

"Residential development creeps ever outward from the metropolitan areas," the board said in its opinion. "This is no longer purely a farming area but is now more of a suburban area, and as such, the church itself is not out of character with the neighborhood."


The decision grants the Hunt Valley Presbyterian Church a special exception to build a 50-foot-tall church building on Beaver Dam Road just west of Interstate 83, with a steeple reaching to 95 feet, plus an adjoining church office building.

The new church will occupy about 10 percent of the 23-acre site.


However, the board denied the church's request to build a fellowship center that would have taken up one-third of the proposed 25,000-square-foot complex.

"It is not church-like in appearance, nor is it church-like in size, and it appears to have a detrimental effect by its appearance in regard to nearby homes," the board said of the center.

The board also restricted the church's capacity to 500 worshipers, 100 fewer than originally sought, and barred any commercial day care or nursery school operations.

"I certainly see [these restrictions] as backing up what we felt, that this [project] was just too big and too much," said Margaret Worrall, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council Inc., which opposed the project on behalf of area residents.

On the other hand, she said, by conceding Ivy Hill to suburbia, the board "appears to back up what I call a Pac Man-like gobbling of the rural areas."

"It appears to me the Board of Appeals is recognizing the domino effect: that those houses went in there, and that is [in itself] a good reason to allow a suburban church to go in. This is certainly a scary thing for us," Mrs. Worrall said.

Two other churches have applied for special exceptions to build or expand on nearby property.

Donald Deuterman, a member of Hunt Valley Presbyterian's site selection committee, said, "We're disappointed that we weren't permitted to have the fellowship center, but we're happy they made a decision that we can build there."


The restriction on the church's seating capacity won't have any immediate impact on the congregation, which now numbers fewer than 200.

Initial plans call for no more than 350 to 400 seats, with room to expand later.

For the past year and a half, parishioners have been meeting in a chapel at "Bonnie Blink," the Maryland Masonic Homes in Hunt Valley.

Mr. Deuterman said he believed the ruling addressed residents' concerns.

"I hope we can work things out to our mutual benefit," he said.

Both sides said they needed more time to decide whether to appeal the decision to Circuit Court.


County planning director P. David Fields said the county's Master Plan drew the line against urbanization at I-83 by banning water and sewer extension and road widening west of the highway. The restrictions have not been enough to block suburban development.

"In real terms that area is increasingly becoming rural-residential," even though the zoning imposes a 3-acre minimum lot size, he said.

"What we thought was environmentally sound development . . . is in fact using up the land with big houses all over the place. You can look at Ivy Hill and see how wasteful of land it is, and it doesn't protect any resources."

In response to the problem, the county recently changed zoning rules for new subdivisions to keep 70 percent of the land open, while clustering residential development on 1-acre lots with minimal disturbance in the remaining 30 percent.

"And it was a battle to get that," Mr. Fields said.