Appeals panel OKs planned Jewish elementary school in Columbia


The Howard County Board of Appeals voted last night to approve a proposal for a Jewish elementary school in Columbia's Sebring neighborhood despite the protests of the local civic association and a Planning Board member who lives next door.

In a 3-1 vote, with one member absent, the board approved the zoning exception sought by the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education but placed 13 conditions on its approval.

Visible from U.S. 29 at Broken Land Parkway, the center's sign in the shape of a menorah has become something of a county landmark.

Board members agreed that the center had caused problems, such as heavy traffic and late-night noise for the community, and set conditions they hoped would correct some of them.

"I can understand how some of the [opponents] feel," said board member Margaret Rutter.

They required the center to provide a turnaround area for buses and a place to keep its bus out of sight, get private trash collection and a trash bin to reduce complaints about trash, improve landscaping and come back to the board to renew its exception after two years so compliance can be verified.

The center had no representative at the appeals board work session, attended by Bruce Martin, president of the Sebring Civic Association, and Planning Board member and neighbor Joan Lancos and her husband, Steven.

Mr. Martin expressed doubts about whether the center would meet the conditions.

"The problem all along has been that compliance is only achieved after complaints," he said. "Hopefully, they will get better. I hope they will continue to communicate with us."

The one board member who voted against the zoning exception was George Layman, who believed the neighbors had proven that the existing synagogue and preschool were a burden on the community.

"I don't think we need this type of large operation on this small a property," he said.

But board member Jerry Rushing called the 4 acre property a "nice site" and noted that his church runs a religious school with 210 students on 3.6 acres in the middle of Savage.

The Lubavitch school, however, would house no more than 30 preschoolers and 60 elementary school students.

The decision will be written within a month and will become final when three of the five appeals board members sign it.

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