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Zoning chief to resume hearings on church plan


Baltimore County's zoning commissioner will resume his review this week of plans by Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church to build a 3,000-seat sanctuary in rural Granite.

A series of public hearings scheduled for last week was delayed by Commissioner Lawrence Schmidt so government agencies and community leaders could review drawings for a new access road at the site, which is off Old Court Road. The church had planned two such roads, but reduced the number to one.

The hearings are scheduled to resume tomorrow morning.

Several county agencies reviewed the revised plans Friday, and no objections were raised, said Donald Rascoe, the county's development manager.

However, Rascoe said he received a letter last week from the State Highway Administration asking that the developer submit a revised traffic study based on the use of one access road.

The church's lawyer, Robert A. Hoffman, said Friday he didn't believe the state's request would delay this week's hearings, which are scheduled through Friday. County officials say the hearings could extend into next week.

The church wants to build a $10 million sanctuary with offices and classrooms on 255 acres.

The building, to be set back 1,000 feet from the road, would cover 2 acres.

Residents have strongly opposed the plan. They worry that the church, which will have parking for 1,373 vehicles, would create traffic jams on Old Court Road - a two-lane thoroughfare - put a strain on ground-water supplies and ruin the rural character of the neighborhood.

The plans hit a snag Aug. 28 when the church submitted the new road design.

The modification was a response to critics, and to lawsuits filed by two homeowners who did not want the access roads to run through their property.

The new road would not be near any homes. It would serve as an entrance to and an exit from the site.

The Bethel AME congregation, one of the most influential in Baltimore, worships at a church on Druid Hill Avenue. Members say the congregation, which numbers about 14,000, has outgrown the building.

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