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McLean Church Seeks Joyful Noise

Bells will be ringing in the Chesterbrook section of McLean if St. John’s Catholic Church and school has its way. The church is proposing to construct a bell tower that will play the recorded sounds of bells at select intervals in the day.

Parishioners and staff for St. John’s Church brought their proposal before the McLean Citizen’s Association last week to get approval. The proposal, which includes an application for additions to existing buildings, a three-car garage for the priests, extra parking, a grotto, entrance sign and tennis court in addition to the bell tower, is scheduled to go before the Fairfax Planning Commission on April 21. The church is proposing that the rezoning it requests be processed “concurrently with a special exemption for a place of worship.”

Members of the MCA Planning and Zoning Committee who listened to St. John’s proposal at the meeting expressed reservation only about the effect the bells would have on residents.

Presenters for St. John’s Church could not tell the MCA members at what decibel level the bells would be played, which caused concern that homeowners in the area might find the bells obtrusive.

“There’s no intention to blast people, I can guarantee that,” said Father Edward Hathaway.

St. John’s proposes to set the sound level of the bells at the same decibel used by a neighboring church. Staff has been unable to determine what that setting is to date. Church officials did not return calls for comment on the decibel setting.

Parishioner Bill Himpler, who is also a resident of the area, said, “If no complaints have been raised about those bells I’d think that’s demonstrative of how these bells would be received.”

Father Hathaway added, “We’ve been a good neighbor in the community since 1931. We have no intention of changing that now.”

Because the bells will be electronically simulated, the sound level will be controllable. The county limit for decibel levels is currently 65, according to staff at District Supervisor Joan DuBois office.

The Planning and Zoning Committee decided to support St. John’s application, “provided that the sound levels from the recorded bells does not exceed 65 decibels in the outdoor living spaces of the adjacent residential properties.”

It was further determined that no balloon test was necessary for the proposed bell tower since the existing spire on the property is higher than has been suggested for the bell tower.