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Korean Church Controversy

Hearing before the Planning Commission postponed until Nov. 2.

If the Korean Central Presbyterian Church wanted to favorably influence those who’ll help decide whether it’ll be allowed to build a place of worship in Centreville, it certainly didn’t score any points at last week’s land-use meeting.

INSTEAD, THINGS deteriorated into a shouting match between church representative Joe Drake and Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch. And in the end, the church’s public hearing before the Planning Commission was postponed until Nov. 2.

The unpleasantries occurred at the Sept. 20 meeting of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee. And the heated exchange between Drake and Koch took everyone by surprise.

“It was a total furor,” said At-Large Planning Commissioner Jim Hart. Added WFCCA’s Carol Hawn: “I have never seen Ron so upset, but he was just frustrated.”

The church outgrew its current facility in Vienna and wants to construct a new complex for its 4,000 members off Route 29, next to Bull Run Elementary. However, the site is 80 acres zoned RC (residential conservation – meaning it’s environmentally sensitive land) between Route 29 and Compton, Pleasant Valley and Bull Run Post Office roads. Therefore, the church requires a special-exception permit from the county before it can build there.

In addition to a 2,000-seat sanctuary and 500-seat chapel, on weekdays the facility would also house a 150-child daycare center, plus a 100-child private school for grades K-2. Phase one of the project includes the main building – all 245,000 square feet of it – containing the sanctuary and chapel, plus a gym, administrative space and education area.

Drake has already spoken about the project several times before the WFCCA and, each time, he’s presented substantial changes to the proposal. At last week’s meeting, he discussed still more changes.

A soccer field initially on the plan has been deleted, the stormwater-management pond was moved and the church now intends to sell three lots it owns on Compton Road to raise money for construction. And another building – a stand-alone rectory of about 2,000 square feet – has been added.

One of the other two buildings proposed is in the project’s second phase, and an 18,000-square foot cellar with a loading dock will go under the 245,000-square-foot building. Hart’s still concerned with the large size of that building and, he said, questions about consolidation, interparcel access and transportation have yet to be answered by the church.

SITTING IN on the WFCCA meeting, as he usually does, Koch also had questions. But when he asked them, Drake began arguing and yelling over Koch’s words. This prompted Koch to say, “You’re really slick, buddy,” to Drake and to remind him that he had the floor and it was his turn to speak.

“I was speaking, and he cut me off,” said Koch. “They had lots of time to answer the questions the WFCCA asked at the last meeting. I just don’t like to see the Land-Use Committee’s time wasted.” He also said the church was expecting something that was never promised.

“Drake said that, when Bull Run Elementary went in, the county had proffered to put in a road to their property,” explained Koch. “But the county never did that.” Koch also advised Drake that the church had missed its Planning Commission date because the proposal still wasn’t ready.

“I told him I knew they were going to get a negative staff report,” said Koch. “And one staff member had told me that [the Korean church representatives] weren’t responsive to their concerns. Staff had 11 transportation concerns and, said Koch, “They never got back to [county staff] about any of them – and some of these things were minor.”

Furthermore, he said, Gary and Donna Bradford – who live along Route 29, right next to the property – would be the residents most impacted by the project. Their home would be adjacent to the church’s proposed park-and-ride, and they’re worried about possible contamination and/or failure of their well. Nonetheless, said Koch, church representatives have “never met with them.”

Last Thursday, Sept. 22, Koch, county staff and Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) met with church representatives. “We laid out the unresolved issues, and they said they were going to address them,” said Koch. “But it’s very frustrating when these issues come up, time and again.”

And now, he said, “They’ve made changes with ballfields and open space, and they’ve sold three parcels. And they haven’t told what secondary uses will be in some of the buildings. Well, what’s going to be there is going to impact the traffic.”

Emphasizing that traffic and the project’s intensity are its two main problems, Koch called the Korean church’s application a major one. “I understand the church’s wanting a new place to worship, but we can’t just give them carte blanche to build what they want and ignore the effects,” he said. “And it’s in the RC, which complicates things further.”

AS FOR HAWN, between the WFCCA and the Sully District Council of Citizens Associations – of which she’s also a member – she said last week’s was “probably the eighth” one she’s seen about this church. And she was irritated that so many problems still remain.

“By this time, I’d think it would be minor tweaking,” she said. “But there are still some major issues. “The plan keeps changing, and they still haven’t met with the nearest neighbors. And they can’t guarantee that they’re not going to come back to us in the future with changes [or additions].”

“Are we going to approve this and then they’ll ask to add another 1,000 seats to the sanctuary?” wondered Hawn. The WFCCA is supposed to decide, Oct. 18, whether to recommend approval or denial of this project to the Planning Commission. But, said Hawn, “I still have a lot of questions, and I don’t know if I can recommend approval next month.”

“We know they may not be able to address everyone’s concerns adequately,” added Koch. “But they’ve got to make an effort, or else we feel like they’re not taking the process seriously.”