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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
Plans for Jesus House DC to build a church in Cloverly are drawing opposition from residents in the area, while church officials say they want to be good neighbors.
Jesus House operates in downtown Silver Spring. The organization, which is part of The Redeemed Christian Church of God, has proposed building a new facility on 15.6 acres at 15730 New Hampshire Ave., between Bryants Nursery and Norbeck roads.
The plan is expected to go before the Montgomery County Planning Board on March 30.
The Cloverly Civic Association, the Good Hope Estates Civic Association, the Peachwood Civic Association, the Stonegate Citizens Association, the Peachwood Estates Homeowners Association and individual residents have banded together to form Concerned Citizens of Cloverly Community in opposition of the plan.
“None of the people have anything against a church being there,” said Mitra Pedoeem, a resident of the area. “We are opposing the scale. Usually churches are good neighbors, but this is one of the largest churches around here.”
The coalition has acquired more than 300 signatures on a petition to submit to Casey Anderson, Planning Board chairman.
The petition states, “While the primary specific concerns vary among signers, we share the following general concern: A facility this large is not consistent with the character of the community as described in the Cloverly Master Plan and does not conform to Montgomery County Council Resolution 14-334 as originally intended.”
It urges rejection of the plan, “which does not meet the condition of the approved sewer category change that requires preserving the 7-acre mature forest. The plan is inconsistent with the Cloverly Master Plan requirement of not allowing sewer in the RE-2 zone. Also, the plan has an impervious level of 27 percent while the Master Plan discourages individual developments greater than 15 percent.”
The original applicant for the sewer category change applied on behalf of a development plan by the Southern Asian Seventh Day Adventist Church in 1999 for a 750-seat place of worship. That organization did not end up purchasing the property.
Other concerns include traffic, parking and effect on property values.
According to Ghandi Olaoye, senior pastor of Jesus House DC, the church has between 1,500 and 1,800 members. It was founded 22 years ago and has been at its current location for 21 years.
Most of its members reside in Montgomery County, he said, so church officials wanted to remain in the area. A new facility would allow the church to consolidate under one roof, as opposed to the four buildings the organization is now using.
“We are moving to a space that better accommodates us,” Olaoye said.
The original plan submitted to the county included multiple buildings, but was rejected.
“What we have now is basically night and day from what was initially submitted,” said Bimbo Fasosin, church administrator.
The current plan features one building, which contains a 1,600-seat sanctuary, a smaller chapel, administrative offices and a “children’s church” that consists of Sunday school classrooms. The idea is that several years down the road, a Christian elementary school would occupy the space.
Olaoye said the county has required the church to use underground parking, which is costing an additional $2 million.
“They want to keep the rural character and asked us to push back the building,” Fasosin said. “It would be very difficult to see from New Hampshire Avenue.”
He said church officials would not touch 5.6 acres in the back of the property that would be maintained as a forest conservation area.
The plans also include an amphitheater and soccer field. Olaoye said the field would not feature bleachers or lights.
He said county planners requested that the church include all future plans in its application so it did not have to seek separate approval for each development phase.
Olaoye said the church would have two services on Sunday mornings and additional services on the first Wednesday and first Friday of each month.
He said the church is involved in numerous community service projects, including food drives, providing school supplies, serving the homeless and operating a home for pregnant teenagers.
“We are good citizens and have worked very well with the community over the years,” he said.
As part of the county’s development requirements, Olaoye said church representatives have met with the community three times and have listened to their concerns.
“We have made a lot of changes based on their comments,” he said. “We are just going to be good neighbors.”
Terri Hogan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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