The Rockville Board of Appeals has ruled that a Baptist church may continue to operate a drug and alcohol counseling center from a private house in Twinbrook, despite objections from some nearby residents that the operation is out of place in the largely residential neighborhood.

At a hearing last weekend on the Halpine Baptist Church's request for a special exception to operate a counseling center at 5922 Halpine Rd., several residents testified they were concerned that church officials might eventually want to expand the operation, which they said would bring more outsiders into the area and increase neighborhood traffic.

"At the risk of sounding like a scrooge, which I don't think I am, we as residents of Halpine Road are very concerned, because we know this is a first step," said Betty Martinelli. "I personally feel that once this is established and they have it, they will want to expand it."

However, board members voted 2 to 1 to grant the special exception, saying that they could find no indication that the center has had any adverse impact on the neighborhood.

Church officials told board members that they currently have no plans to expand the operation.

The center has been operating for nearly six months, and officials of the Halpine Baptist Church, which is at 12701 Twinbrook Pkwy., told board members they were unaware that they needed city approval to operate it.

While most of the 35 clients counseled at the center are the spouses of drug and alcohol abusers, some clients are users of drugs such as PCP, marijuana, Valium and cocaine, church officials said. The center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

In granting the special exception, the board ruled that the church cannot increase the center's current operating hours or take more clients without getting further approval from the city.