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Government agencies back church plan


Several government agencies gave their blessing yesterday to Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church's planned 3,000-seat church in Granite, as a hearing resumed on the project.

The hearing, which could last several days, was delayed last week when the church introduced new access road designs that had not been reviewed by community leaders or the State Highway Administration.

Yesterday, state highway engineer Larry Gredlein testified that "we've approved the traffic impact study."He also said the state had approved the design of the entrance on Old Court Road.

County agencies also weighed in, approving the church's use of well water, the project's impact on the environment and general designs for the $10 million building, which would cover 2 acres and be set back 1,000 feet from the road.

The 14,000-member congregation, which worships in Baltimore in a building it has outgrown, wants to build on a 255-acre lot. The church would have 1,373 parking spaces.

After government officials gave their approvals, residents who oppose the project told Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt they would be presenting testimony on several issues they say will negatively affect their rural community, which lies between Randallstown and the Howard County line.

Attorneys Francis X. Borgerdine Jr. and Kathleen S. Skullney, who were hired by project opponents, said they would raise concerns about the environment, the water table, traffic problems that church-goers might create along two-lane Old Court Road, and the "size and scope" of the church. Designs show it to be larger than the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Schmidt has set aside several days this week and next for the hearing, which is being held at the county office building in Towson.

He said yesterday he expects to make a decision within 15 days of the hearing's conclusion.

Although Schmidt must approve the development plans, current zoning allows construction of a church on the site.

Plans for the Bethel AME sanctuary will not be affected by a rural zone created this week by the County Council. The zone, called RC6, is designed to preserve at least 3,000 acres of the Patapsco Valley-Granite area, while allowing some development.

The RC6 category allows one home per 5 acres in an attempt to preserve rock formations and other natural features of environmentally sensitive areas.

Much of the land in the area now falls under a rural classification that does not include specific environmental protections.

"These are new techniques for Baltimore County," Arnold F. Keller, the county planning director, told the County Council Tuesday.

Bethel and other religious institutions closely monitored the council's creation of the new zone, arguing that churches, temples and mosques should not be banned. While those uses will be permitted, they will face size and other restrictions.

The County Council is scheduled to decide Oct. 10 which properties in the Patapsco Valley-Granite area will fall under the new classification.

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