Synagogue changes tack on school


A Columbia synagogue has abandoned its religion-based constitutional challenge to Howard County's land-use authority and asked for formal permission to teach elementary school classes at its day care facility in the Sebring neighborhood.

Lubavitch of Howard County was due to plead its case in county JTC circuit court next month against the county Board of Appeals. The Jewish sect members sued the board after it ruled Dec. 6 that the 1989 special zoning exception allowing a religious facility and day care center did not allow first-grade classes.

The Lubavitch group's attorney, Richard B. Talkin, said yesterday that the group had decided not to pursue the circuit court appeal and instead will follow county land-use rules requiring another special exception.

The petition, filed last month, asks for a special exception for a private elementary school in the building it now uses for religious activities and day care.

Residents of the surrounding Sebring neighborhood opposed the Lubavitch group's original special exception and fought the group's attempt to expand the use of its 4.8-acre property.

Mr. Talkin said the new special exception petition includes plans for a new road allowing access to the property from Howes Lane, instead of from Rodona Drive. The facility borders both streets. That would solve one of the neighbors' chief concerns, he said.

Jim Blimmel, vice president of the Sebring Civic Association, said his group would have to consider the petition before it takes a position.

"There's been concerns all along about the traffic," he said. Changing the entrance would help residents who live on Covington Drive and who now have the synagogue's traffic running behind their houses, he said.

People who live along Sebring Drive still would have traffic twice a day when people bring children to and from the property, Mr. Blimmel said. The synagogue also is seeking permission to double the day care center's current enrollment of 30 children.

The case will first be considered by the county Planning Board, which will make a recommendation to the Board of Appeals. The appeals board will hold its own hearing and decide the case.

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