A federal judge on Wednesday said the Prince George’s County Council must reconsider a request by a Seventh-day Adventist congregation to install water and sewer lines on a 17-acre parcel in West Laurel where the church wants to build a school, sanctuary and conference center.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus said the council must act within 60 days or risk facing a trial.
In September, after months of debate, the council granted limited water and sewer rights to the church after it and a previous council rejected the request. But the church’s pastor, Michael Oxentenko, said the council plan was too restrictive and returned to the judge, leading to Wednesday’s ruling.
“Christmas came early,” said Robert Antonetti, an attorney for the congregation, Reaching Hearts International. “We are enthused by the possibility that this stalemate might be broken and that we can get this client a place to call home.”
Even if the church obtains the right to build water and sewer lines, it does not mean the entire development can go ahead — that will be up to the county planning board. But without the water and sewer lines, development could not begin.
Some residents and the council have said the church complex would be too large for the area, potentially clogging local roads and adding to runoff into a reservoir for drinking water.
In 2008, Titus ruled that the council’s reasoning was not sufficient to rebuff the church’s water and sewer application.
In July, the council again turned aside the church’s request (as a previous council had done), so the church returned to court. Titus threatened to hold the council in contempt, and County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) asked the council to reconsider.
Behind the scenes, the Baker administration had been pushing for a settlement, fearing a reprise of the 2008 court battle, which cost the county nearly $1 million in outside legal fees, according to information in Titus’s ruling.
Council Chairman Andrea C. Harrison (D-Springdale) said the council, which has been in recess since early December, will examine the ruling upon its return, scheduled for mid-January. Baker’s office said the county executive’s staff was reviewing the decision.