A Baltimore County appeals board cleared the way yesterday for Har Sinai Congregation to start work on a 62,500-square-foot synagogue, day care center and school on the site of a former dump in Worthington Valley -- even as neighbors prepare to go to court next week to try to stop the development.
The county's Board of Appeals, ending a year of county review, said it would issue a written order approving the project by Friday, when Har Sinai will be allowed to receive permits to begin preparing the site for construction.
"The neighborhood will be praying for rain," said Stuart Kaplow, a lawyer representing residents who oppose the project.
A hearing is scheduled for Monday in Baltimore County Circuit Court, where opponents will ask a judge to issue an order stopping the development at Greenspring and Walnut avenues until a full hearing is held on the project.
Har Sinai, the nation's oldest Reform Jewish congregation, wants to move from Park Heights Avenue in Baltimore to fast-growing northwest Baltimore County to be closer to many of its members. The congregation's development proposal became one of the most debated projects in the county in recent memory, prompting seven days of hearings.
Residents contend that Har Sinai's development plan was improper and that the day care center would be an illegal commercial use on the 17-acre parcel zoned for rural conservation. They also have expressed concern that the large facility could harm local wells.
County officials dismissed those arguments in development review hearings. But they also said the synagogue would have to clean up the former dump before it can build there. While most of the debris is harmless trash, studies have found polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and metals such as arsenic on the site.