A committee of the Prince George’s County Council has denied a water permit change that would have allowed a Seventh-day Adventist congregation to move forward in its nearly decade-long battle to build a new church.
The council’s Committee on Transportation, Housing and Environment on Thursday voted 4 to 0 against granting a water permit category change to Reaching Hearts International Ministries.
The Rev. Michael Oxentenko called the decision “religious discrimination.”
Reaching Hearts bought a 17-acre parcel in Laurel in 2002. The church applied to the council, which also functions as the county’s zoning panel, for a “category change” that would allow it to connect water and sewer lines to the property.
But the council never moved to approve the application. As a result, the church filed a discrimination lawsuit against the county in federal court. The church said the council was using zoning regulations to prevent it from building.
Three years ago, the church won a federal appeal of a $3.7 million discrimination verdict against the county.
In a statement, council member Mary Lehman said she had no objection to the church building on the front of the property. “However, I believe that a change in the water/sewer category for the back 13.7 acres of the property would be inconsistent with the county’s mission to protect the reservoir from adverse effects of the kind of large-scale, land-disturbing project Reaching Hearts International is planning.”
The church’s lawyer, Ward Coe, said Reaching Hearts is looking at further legal remedies.
“The options are to go back to court and seek to have to the county found in contempt of [the court order] that requires they process this application without discrimination and delay,” Coe said.