Rockville residents will have a chance to express their views about a proposed amendment to the city's zoning ordinance that would require religious groups to get special permission to set up headquarters in residential neighborhoods.
The City Council voted 3 to 1 earlier this week to hold a public hearing on the proposed amendment, which would require special-exception use permits for churches, synagogues, home busineses and even backyard swimming pools.
Council members decided to consider the zoning amendment two years ago, residents objected to the establishment of a parish house by members of a Jewish sect. Some neighbors sued the planning commission, which granted a permit to what is now called the Chabad House, but the court upheld the commission's decision.
The protesters, whose street borders on downtown Rockville, told the council they long had been concerned with preserving the character of their historic neghborhood.
Despite low turnout in support of the zoning amendment at a recent city-sponsored public forum on the issue, West End Citizens Association president John Brewer presed the council to file a zoning amendment and hold the necessary public hearing.
"Institutional intrusions in our neighborhood are one of our greatest concerns. It can diminish the value of homes," said Bob Braunberg, a resident of West Montgomery Avenue, at Monday's council meeting.
Council member John Freeland said he would support the zoning admendment: "There is no protection if they (the neighbors) don't want a church. Right now we stand helpless when something like this comes up."
Another supporter of the measure is council member Phyllis Fordham, who said, "It's not a question of keeping churches out. It (the amendment) looks at changes that could occur when institutions move in."
Council member John Tyner also voted to press ahead with the text amendment.
Mayor William E. Hanna Jr. cast the only dissenting vote at Monday's meeting. "Religious institutions bring added value to our community. We don't want to make it more restrictive for them to be here. We're not talking about pornography shops, we're talking about religion," said Hanna.
The public hearing is to be scheduled for September.