Church drops project

The Baltimore Sun

Leaders of a Timonium church have scrapped a controversial plan to build a 2,500-seat complex on the 30-acre site of the Padonia Park Club, where generations of Cockeysville-area residents went swimming and attended camps.

The Rev. Daniel K. O'Brien, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church, announced the decision to his congregation during a morning service yesterday. He said later that the church had not raised enough money to develop the property.

Neighbors had strongly opposed the plan, saying it would increase traffic, alter the complexion of the area and overwhelm water and sewer systems. It is unclear what will now happen to the club property.

Church leaders will continue their search for a new home in the Timonium area. Grace Fellowship has about 5,000 members and holds four services a week in a rented space off Deereco Road that can hold 1,100 people.

"The congregation was very pleased that the leadership of the church wanted to exercise prudence. And we trust that God will provide a church home for us," O'Brien said. "We know God doesn't want us to overextend ourselves and make a decision that isn't prudent. The real estate market is far more favorable to a buyer than it was 18 months ago."

The controversy began in July, when the family that owns the swim club agreed to sell the property for $10 million to O'Brien's church. For nearly half a century, the Padonia Park Club has provided swimming pools, day camps and a child care center for area residents.

Although the church is the place of worship of many in the area, a local advocacy group was formed in July to fight the proposal.

O'Brien said the church has raised $11 million and has $13 million available in other resources. But the money was insufficient to build a 150,000-square-foot church facility.

Dan Meenan, president of Save Our Community, has said he researched the land-use effects of such a church and 13 acres of parking lots on the site, and that it could not handle the impact. He said yesterday that traffic lights at three intersections as well as turn lanes would have to be installed.

"I'm happy for the community, but I'm sad for Grace. The position they're in is because of the overall credit landscape, and it's going to be difficult for them to go anywhere," Meenan said.

The club's owners, the Rigger family, had originally planned to operate the facility for two more summers while the church completed the development-approval process. The club has four pools on the site along Jenifer Road with another under construction.

Ira Rigger, the family patriarch, started out as the contractor building the original pool about 50 years ago and ended up as owner. His two children run the facility, which is situated in a mostly rural area.

Family members had said previously that they were not looking to sell the club but that the church's offer - which some have speculated was twice the property's value - was to good to pass up.

Neither Ira Rigger nor his two children could be immediately reached for comment about their current plans for the club.

"What the Riggers have done is so wonderful," Meenan said. "It's a working man's country club. Blue-collar. It's got all different types of people and is the center of our community. It's the one place that most of us have gone and met each other."

Several club members took part in a protest last summer, standing outside the church during a service and wearing T-shirts that read "What Would Jesus Do?" O'Brien said that played no part in the church's decision to forgo the project.

"There were lots of different opinions," O'Brien said. "The community doesn't speak with one voice. Some were disappointed; others thought it was a terrific use of that property. But we wish the Riggers well. They're wonderful people."

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