The Basilica of Saint Vitale, and the mosaics inside of it, is one of the reasons that Ravenna, Italy, is called a World Heritage site by the United Nations. Still though, Sheila Reilly doesn’t want to see it rebuilt in her neighborhood.
The Holy Trinity Orthodox Church is applying for a special exception, which would allow them to construct a church at 20865 Potomac View Road in Sterling. “We have nothing against the church. They just have the wrong lot,” Reilly said. “We love our houses. We love our yards. We want our houses to stay the way they are.”
The church has plans to build an 11,050-square-foot building on the vacant 2-acre lot. The building will be centered on the lot, said Matt Lepnew, who is coordinating the project for the church.
San Vitale is roughly octagonal in shape, and this church will mimic that configuration, he said. “Besides being an architectural gem, it's just tradition,” he said.
The architecture of the building lends itself well to the Orthodox liturgy. “When the two come together, it just works wonders,” Lepnew said.
The parish has owned half of the lot since the late 1980s and purchased the other acre in the early '90s. Around 1999-2000, the parish donated an existing building to the Sterling Fire Department, which burned it down in a training exercise, Lepnew said.
THE SIZE of the proposed building, larger than the existing houses in the neighborhood, is what has some of the residents upset. “They need to find a 5- or 6-acre lot or scale down the building,” Reilly said. “Why do they need an 11,000-square-foot sanctuary for that many people?”
Lepnew said that the building will be an asset to the neighborhood. “We just want to be a good neighbor,” Lepnew said.
Lepnew said the congregation hopes to grow in the future. They currently have up to 50-60 congregants on a given Sunday — they meet at the Glade Recreation Center in Reston.
The building will be limited to a maximum occupancy of 268 people, Lepnew said. The new building plan calls for 67 parking spots. The terms of the current version of the special exception prohibit church members from parking on the nearby streets. We don’t anticipate ever having a need for overflow, Lepnew said.
The building’s height is another issue for Reilly. While the building itself is 28-feet tall, the gold dome reaches 41 feet, a height, which she called out of character for the neighborhood. “The measurements do not include the dome,” Reilly said, “and none of us have gold roofs.”
The zoning ordinance allows “habitable” parts of a building to reach 35 feet. The dome, which is about 10-feet high, is not considered habitable, he said. “It meets the ordinance,” he said.
Lepnew said that the building’s height will be in character. “Clearly, it is not going to have an effect on the skyline,” he said.
According to the Department of Planning staff report, the church has held a series of meetings with the community since November 2004.
The staff report suggests that the church be required to place a wooden fence and trees to provide a visual buffer from the neighbors.
The lighting is required to be directed toward the property to avoid spilling over into the neighboring properties. The church is not permitted to rent out facilities for other uses and can not have any commercial daycare or other facilities.
THE PLANNING COMMISSION voted unanimously among those present — Commissioners John Elgin (Leesburg) and Nancy Hsu (Blue Ridge) were absent — to recommend approval of the building Aug. 1.
The Board of Supervisors is tentatively scheduled to hear the case Sept. 13.
If the board grants the church approval, they hope to begin construction within a year, Lepnew said. He said they will likely build the church in phases, citing funding concerns. “We think it is going to be architecturally beautiful,” Lepnew said.