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Planned West Laurel Church Clears Hurdle

After a court order, Prince George's County allows water and sewage plan to move forward for planned church.

A decade-long battle to build a controversial church in West Laurel could be nearing an end after the Prince George’s County Council this week approved a water and sewer plan that is a crucial component of the development.

Reaching Hearts International Inc. on 17 acres at 6100 Brooklyn Bridge Road in West Laurel.  Since 2003, the church has been battling the county council over zoning rights and sued the county for religious discrimination. In 2008, the congregation won a $3.7 million judgment in federal court.

Last month, a U.S. District Court judge ordered the county to vacate its denial of the water and sewer service category change and process the request within 60 days. On Tuesday, the county council obliged and allowed the church to move forward.

The water and sewer plan was seen as the biggest obstacle to the development after years of community members contending that such a large building in a residential neighborhood would clog roadways, harm the environment and threaten water quality at the nearby Rocky Gorge Reservoir, which is a water source for 500,000 homes.

Councilwoman Mary A. Lehman (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel said she opposed moving the plan forward due to community concerns but that she had always been hopeful a compromise could be reached.

“From the beginning, I tried to do what was fair,” she said. “I remain concerned about the environmental impact.”

Church officials said while most litigation concerning the development has run its course, the church is still seeking damages in a pending court case.

Reaching Hearts still must get approval for its detailed site plan from the county’s planning board, but church officials said they remain hopeful.

“I feel grateful for the county’s decision,” said Pastor Michael Oxentenko. “We have affection for this county. We don’t feel any ill will, we’re grateful.”

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