Church appeals to zoning officials for larger sign Others get to ignore limits, Baptists say ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY -- Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale


A church in southern Anne Arundel says the county zoning office is treating it unfairly by refusing permission for a sign larger than regulations permit.

Friendship Community Baptist Church is set to appeal the county's refusal in a hearing Wednesday.

The Rev. Briton Fletcher, pastor of the church at Route 2 and Jewell Road, says other organizations in the area, including other churches and Lothian Elementary School, have signs significantly larger than the 32 square feet permitted by the county.

"We don't want to give the county any problems," Mr. Fletcher said. "I like the school's sign.

"But if a school can have a sign that size, a church with community programs should have the same opportunity. We just would like to be treated equally."

He noted that the 120-member congregation has operated a community food and clothing bank on the site for five years and needs to identify itself to the public.

When the church applied for a zoning exception to build a V-shaped brick sign several months ago, a zoning analyst recommended approval.

But the administrative hearing officer, Robert C. Wilcox, declined the request in December, telling the pastor: "Your people know where your church is. Why do you need a sign?"

In his written conclusions, Mr. Wilcox said: "Unlike a 7-Eleven or a McDonald's, motorists traveling along Maryland Route 2 will not visit the applicant's church on impulse simply because an identification sign is visible."

Mr. Fletcher responded: "He has no concept of what a church is all about. I don't know why, but he doesn't."

Mr. Wilcox's office said he could not comment because the case is under appeal.

In the hearing notes, Mr. Wilcox said he was refusing the request because there was no legal basis to support it.

"We doubt if even the proposed sign would be large enough to capture the attention of all motorists using Maryland Route 2," Mr. Wilcox wrote.

The church wants to build a V-shaped sign on three brick pillars that, including the empty space between the pillars, would measure approximately 108 square feet. A cross on top would push the height of the sign to 8 feet. County zoning laws say signs can be no larger than 32 square feet and no higher than 6 feet.

The church building is 160 feet from Route 2. Mr. Fletcher said the church does not own the property extending to the highway and needs a sign that community members can see from the road.

"We don't want it so small they have to slow down and cause a traffic hazard to be able to read it," he said.

Church officials, unaware of the county's specifications on sign sizes, spent $1,500 having a brick sign made before they learned about the regulations.

Mr. Fletcher says the mistake was his, but he hopes the county will be flexible.

"We're not proposing some horrible neon blinking thing," he said. "We're well off the road, and we just would like to have a nice, aesthetically pleasing brick sign that would match the brick in our church. We want it to match the architecture, not be an eyesore."

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