Mega Churches on Farmland
Churches and religion are an important part of our life and culture in Frederick County. The changing size and impact of church numbers and buildings on our natural resource base and people is an important planning consideration and large churches can have significant impacts on traffic, storm water runoff, lighting and glare and act as anchors to promote surrounding residential development.
Frederick County’s planning staff has stressed concerns with large churches in areas designated for resource conservation and agriculture – they include environmental impacts, inconsistency with area master plans, conflicts with neighborhood character and removal of land from agricultural use. The staff has made tremendous effort to rewrite our comprehensive plan to address concerns of citizens who in a June 2008 questionnaire chose loss of farmland and lack of identity as two of the greatest threats to our quality of life in Frederick County.
We believe that a decision on where to allow the construction and development of places of assembly in Frederick County is critical to embracing our identity as an agricultural county.
If church construction is to be allowed on agriculturally-zoned land it should not exceed the proposed 25,000 sq ft footprint so that it conforms with the beauty and bucolic nature of our countryside in Frederick County.
Friends of Frederick County completely understands our faith based community’s desire to provide for their constituents, and wishes to be supportive of that endeavor. We do not challenge building churches and church facilities. We question the technical and ethical consistencies of the Place of Assembly Working Group proposal with Frederick County’s broader goals and interests and with the churches own doctrine.
We direct you to a recent study by Sandeep Agrawal of Ryerson University called “New Ethnic Places of Worship and Planning Challenges” The author says neighborhoods are best designed when schools, stores, parks and places of worship evolve from the needs of the community”. The author found that the trend to build church complexes in rural areas is most often among fast-growing ethnic communities and often exacerbates suburban sprawl.
In 2006 a group of 86 Evangelical Christian leaders from across the USA launched a campaign for environmental reform, calling on Christians to push for legislation that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Increasingly church leaders are asking for policy change, and preaching to their congregations to take action to reduce vehicle emissions and to buy hybrid and economy cars. With data in hand we would calculate the vehicle emissions from vehicles that would travel to the proposed churches each Sunday, or each day if they will be open for child care, senior citizen activities or other community services and compare that to a hypothetical church center within a municipality. There is a contradiction between what our Frederick County faith-based community is proposing and that which is proposed by the Evangelical Christian leaders.
We credit the thousands of churches around the USA that are teaching their congregations about “going green”. But talk is cheap. Are churches built on land far from our municipal centers willing to bus their congregations from municipal centers to services, day care and other events? Are they willing to farm the land surrounding their structures? Are they willing to use pervious surface material on their parking lots?
How you can help
Keep your eyes open for upcoming Public Hearings on Mega Church proposals, write letters to the editor, the BOCC or testify in favor of restricting church size in agricultural zones, and building any larger churches within municipalities where people can easily access them.
One can easily imagine that proposals will come before our BOCC to build “small country churches” that will be allowed. But once those churches are built the community will ask for special exeptions to expand for day care centers, basketball courts and other facilities that will sprawl their footprint to become what is known as a campus or a “mega church”. In communities around the USA such campuses become communities outside municipalities that sprawl and consume agricultural land.