Church To Expand

Church To Expand

Town Supports Church's Proposal

The Herndon United Methodist Church cleared the first hurdle leading to the construction of an additional parking lot and fellowship hall Monday night when it received the blessing of the Herndon Planning Commission.

The church was seeking a conditional-use permit to allow a hall/gymnasium, kitchen, additional classrooms and storage space at its property on Bennett Road.

The application drew little attention at the public hearing, but is subject to yet another hearing before the Town Council Nov. 11.

"This is the first church meeting I've had without neighbors voicing their opposition," said Planning Commissioner Judith Downer.

OFFICIALS FOR THE CHURCH, which was formed in the 1850s and has been located across from Herndon High School since 1987, want to build a 20,000-square-foot building to be used as a fellowship hall and additional classrooms. The building, said Seth Grace, a member of the church's building committee, will be exclusively for church-related activities and will not be a for-profit venture. The addition would be between the existing church and the propose Royal Elm development on Bennett Street.

"All our Sunday school activities are full. … We're bursting at the seams," Grace said.

The hall is proposed to have a kitchen so that the space can be used for gatherings and dinners. In addition, the hall will contain a small stage area for pageants and basketball nets so that it can be used as a recreational space for the church's youth. Grace said, however, there will not be bleachers or any other type of seating in the hall for spectator sports.

"We would like it to double for activities, but it's not big enough for seating," Grace said.

The extra classrooms will be used for Sunday school and various church groups that currently have to meet off site because of a lack of a space.

The additional parking area will be located on the south side of the property and will have access from Dranesville Road; a driveway that snakes around the church property to the existing lot; and left-hand turns out of the new lot will be prohibited.

Town staff concluded traffic from the expansion is not likely to have an adverse impact on Dranesville Road or the existing child day-care center, Children's Place, located on Dranesville Road, next to where the new driveway entrance will be.

A COMBINATION of the existing storm-water drainage system on the church property, a new dry pond, and the storm-water drainage system required for the Royal Elm development will lessen the drainage problems for neighbors in the Old Dranesville Hunt Club neighborhood, said Michael Tucker, the project's engineer and a member of the church.

The church members, said Grace, have met with the immediate neighbors, who have not expressed concerns with the proposal. There were no public speakers at Monday night's hearing.

"The project has been well received by the neighbors," Grace said. "If we need to provide any additional landscaping, we're willing to do it."

The church members have also agreed to relocate the existing footpath that stretches across the property near the intersection of Dranesville Road and Bennett Street. It's exact location will be determined after the dry pond's configuration is determined.

It was the drainage and the "unattractiveness" of dry ponds that most concerned the commissioners. The final engineering for the project has yet to be done, but town engineer Douglas Day said the pond can be made to be less unattractive with landscaping or even fencing. The more detailed site plans will need to come before the Planning Commission before the project can move toward the construction phase.

"The natural flow of the land and the location near the street makes it ideal for a pond," said Commissioner Paul LeReche, after fellow Commissioner Ted Hochstein inquired about the possibility of alternative methods of storm-water drainage. "It's a natural bowl that catches what's out there now."