Sound of silence in Guilford; Howard County: Board of Appeals needs to clarify reversal of its earlier approval of church expansion.


BY LAW, the Howard County Board of Appeals can't comment on a case until it has written and signed its decision. The gag order hasn't helped unravel the mess left by the board's surprise retraction this month of its earlier approval of plans to expand First Baptist Church of Guilford.

The board, which meets Thursday, has yet to adequately explain its Feb. 11 reversal of its vote Sept. 1 to approve the project. Parties in the case said the board was concerned about parking and traffic. But those concerns existed before the board approved the project.

First Baptist has been in Guilford for nearly 100 years. Its growing congregation is expected to reach 3,000 members in 10 years.

It wants to build a 2,000-seat sanctuary and a community center.

The appeals board initially concurred with the county Planning Board's recommendation in favor of the church's plans. It did so after gaining an agreement from the church to limit parking for nonreligious events. Now, apparently afraid that this agreement is unenforceable, the appeals board has changed its mind.

Residents of upscale houses that have been built in Guilford in recent years have criticized the community center portion of the expansion.

They don't want it to bring troubled juveniles, the homeless or addicts to the community. But First Baptist already helps people with such problems.

Differences in class and race seem to be thwarting efforts to bridge greater understanding between the African-American church and some residents of Guilford's newer subdivisions.

If the board's latest action forces the church to appeal to Circuit Court on the grounds the reversal was arbitrary, the community split won't mend.

It would be better for both sides to try to reach a compromise that might compel the board to reverse itself again, once and for all.

Pub Date: 2/23/99

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