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BZA Defers Decision on Mission Proposal

Members of the Sant Nirankari Mission and Chantilly's Pleasant Valley community will have to wait one more month before learning if the mission will be able to build a place of worship on Pleasant Valley Road.

The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) — which has the final say in this case — was scheduled to render its decision on Tuesday, Nov. 2. But instead, it deferred action until Dec. 7.

THE ISSUE has been brewing in the community — and, at times, even boiling over in heated exchanges — since April. The church really wants to build there, but the residents are adamantly opposed.

Sant Nirankari Mission, a derivative of the Sikh religion, has been in this area for two decades. Its 70-75 members include residents of Centreville and Herndon, and they currently meet in Chesterbrook Methodist Church.

Now, though, they want a place of their own on a nearly 4.1-acre, wooded site at 4501 Pleasant Valley Road. It's zoned RC (residential conservation), so the mission needs a special permit from the county to build there. Planned is a two-level facility, with a prayer hall, offices, activity rooms and a library.

Sant Nirankari first proposed a 15,600-square-foot structure seating 550 people. After many incarnations — and complaints from the residents — it pared its building to 12,152 square feet with 300 seats and 107 parking spaces. It also decreased the average building height from 45 to 39 feet.

After hearing arguments from both sides, the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee on Oct. 26 approved the proposal. Although a few details still had to be hammered out, the WFCCA acknowledged the mission's painstaking efforts over several months to work with Pleasant Valley residents to make its proposal more palatable to them.

BUT RESIDENTS say they expected another home to be built on that lot, not a church. They say the facility is still too large and the site needs a left-turn lane from Route 50 south onto Pleasant Valley Road. And they contend that such a big church right in the midst of their quiet community of small homes would be too disruptive and incompatible with its surroundings.

On Tuesday, both Sant Nirankari and Pleasant Valley resident Cynthia Shang presented their cases to the BZA. Then, because he had some concerns about traffic safety, at-large BZA member Jim Pammel asked Paul Kraucunas of VDOT to examine the alignment of the curve on Pleasant Valley Road, just slightly north of the site.

Pammel also asked the mission to take one more look at the height of its proposed roof to see if it could possibly be lowered. The BZA then set Dec. 7 as the date for its final decision on the matter. Said BZA member Jim Hart: "According to the [county's] Comprehensive Plan, nonresidential uses in the RC require a rigorous review — and that's what we're doing."