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Catholic School Meets Opposition

Neighbors and commissioners like idea, worry about density and setbacks for proposed complex near South Riding.

A proposed new Catholic school and church complex near South Riding has received opposition from an unexpected source — neighboring Ticonderoga Farms Inc.

"We understand that schools and churches are an integral and important aspect of our community and we welcome them to the neighborhood," wrote Ticonderoga Farms chairman Peter J. Knop in a letter to the Planning Commission. "Yet please note that we are making these objections because we also believe that property rights must be protected."

The Catholic Diocese of Arlington has submitted a plan to include a 1,500-capacity high school, a 500-capacity kindergarten through eighth grade school, a rectory, church, parish and athletic fields on 68 acres along Braddock Road.

Ticonderoga Farms currently does not have homes adjacent to the property, but the land is zoned for residential use. Knop expressed concern regarding the lack of setbacks between the future home site and the athletic field's 80-foot lights.

The diocese's plan does not include earthen berms, which would provide a visual block surrounding the property. Berms would require 200 feet or more of space to build. Under the current proposal, setbacks around the property range from 15 feet to 50 feet.

"I think you're trying to put too much into too little a space," said commissioner John H. Elgin (Leesburg). "It's just too doggone much."

Sterling Commissioner Helena Syska's children attended a Catholic school in Herndon, and she too expressed concerns.

"This layout looks very much like St. Joseph's in Herndon. I'm concerned about how much distance there is between the school and the church," Syska said. "I have seen some bad drivers go through that parking lot [at St. Joseph's]. I've seen the precautions the teachers must take to have the safety there for the children."

THE CATHOLIC Diocese of Arlington has 47 schools and 76 parishes across Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. It was already planning on expanding in Loudoun County, where it has six parishes and three schools — but none in the South Riding area.

Tuition for the high school will run at $8,500 a year. The schools and church would service mainly Loudoun County, plus western Fairfax and northern Prince William, said attorney John McGranahan, who represents the diocese.

"This plan ... represents a very long-term plan for the diocese," McGranahan said.

The high school would open in the first phase of construction with 1,000 students. The second phase of construction would include the kindergarten through eighth grade school, the church, rectory, more athletic fields and improvements to Braddock Road.

Both commissioners and a representative for Ticonderoga Farms reiterated their support for school and religious use of the area, but requested that changes be made to the plan. The proposal was sent back to a work session with the commissioners.