Worshiping at the shopping center Bill would strengthen a valuable institution at no one's expense.


IN THIS ERA of reduced government involvement in solving social problems, one often hears the church being extolled as a tool for instilling values, molding children into responsible adults and binding communities. So it's surprising that some members of the Anne Arundel County Council are taking a short view of a zoning bill that would help fledgling congregations by allowing them in industrial and commercial areas.

Current zoning law restricts churches to residential neighborhoods. That is hurting many new churches that can't afford to buy property and build a place of worship. Many of these churches start out meeting in residences, but as their numbers grow, they have no place to expand. They want to be able to rent space in a shopping center or an office building, for instance, until they acquire the means to build their own facility. It's a reasonable request, yet some council members appear oddly skeptical of Pasadena Councilman Thomas Redmond's bill lifting zoning restrictions on churches.

The concerns that have been voiced do not outweigh the benefits of helping these churches survive. One worry is that allowing tax-exempt churches to settle in commercial and industrial areas will remove too much revenue-generating property from tax rolls. But most churches are talking about temporarily renting in these areas, not buying permanent sites there. If landlords have a strong commercial prospect for a vacancy, chances are they'll rent to that business over a non-profit church anyway. Even if a handful of churches buy land in commercial or industrial districts, which is doubtful given the expense, the social benefits of a church may outweigh the relatively small amount of revenue the county would lose.

As for concerns about traffic -- the fear that congregation members' cars will flood shopping center parking lots, leaving no room for patrons of local businesses -- churches usually convene on Sunday mornings; not much business goes on then.

Mr. Redmond's legislation affects virtually no one except the members of these young churches. If council members are as concerned as they purport to be about strengthening their neighborhoods, they'll see this bill as a tool to help a valuable community institution rather than fuss over concerns that frankly

don't exist.

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