To date, representatives of the Korean Central Presbyterian Church haven't had an easy time convincing anybody here that they should be allowed to build a 205,000-square-foot church complex along Route 29 in Centreville.
AND NOW their uphill battle has gotten even steeper: In its report dated Dec. 28, Fairfax County staff is recommending denial of the special-exception permit the church needs to proceed.
According to the staff report, a place of worship with 2,500 seats and both a nursery school and an elementary school of 100 students each — in buildings totaling 205,000 square feet — "is too intense for the property, as proposed. [The] design has unacceptable impacts to the surrounding property."
Furthermore, the report concludes, "Barring a reduction in intensity, or further consolidation [of nearby land] ... staff believes that this use is inappropriate, and is neither in harmony with [the county's] Comprehensive Plan, nor in conformance with the regulations of the [county] zoning ordinance."
The county Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the church's application, next Thursday, Jan. 12, at 8:15 p.m. in the county Government Center. But both Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch and At-Large Planning Commissioner Jim Hart have said that no decision will be made that night.
Instead, decision will be deferred until after the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee hears from the church again on Jan. 17 and then makes its recommendation for approval or denial to the Planning Commission.
However, the Planning Commission itself will receive public comment on Jan. 12. Individuals may speak for five minutes each. To be placed on the list to speak, call 703-324-2865, before 3 p.m. that day.
The staff report notes that the Comprehensive Plan describes the land eyed by the church as having "a rural character [and being] planned for residential development at .1 to .2 dwelling unit per acre. The present very low density development which characterizes this area should remain intact to protect its natural wildlife and water quality."
The Comprehensive Plan also states that non-residential uses requiring special-exception or special-permit approval should have "minimal impact" on existing residences and should be "of a size and scale that will not adversely impact the character of the area in which it is located."
And although the Korean church is hoping to eventually receive the county Board of Supervisors' blessing to build here, as far as county staff is concerned, several issues remain unresolved. They include consolidation, screening/buffering and the cumulative impacts on Route 29.
* Consolidation: "While consolidation is not in and of itself necessary for a recommendation of approval, the site as currently proposed is constrained by several elements which constrict the truly usable area," states the staff report. "A key parcel along Route 29 — [referred to as Parcel 17] — is not part of the application."
Since this parcel is currently used as residential property, surrounding it with an intense, non-residential use would essentially render it "highly unattractive for residential use," and likely attractive "only for some other non-residential use," states the report. Staff noted that, after the church "constricted" its proposed development to the land closest to this parcel, it tried mitigating things by increasing the proposed buffering for this area.
However, stated the report, "Staff continues to believe that the proposed use, as designed, would have a significant negative impact on the unconsolidated parcel , especially with the construction of Phase Two." This phase adds a second building of 30,000 square feet for additional office and classroom space.
As a result, "It is staff's opinion that the proposed design and intensity — which result in a 5-acre residential parcel  being almost entirely surrounded by the buildings, parking lots and driveways of an intense non-residential use — is not acceptable and not in keeping with the Comprehensive Plan's recommendations of not 'adversely impact[ing] the character of the area.'"
* Buffering: Because of the number of seats and parking spaces (more than 1,000) the church proposes, plus its Sunday services from 6 a.m.-8 p.m., Wednesday and Friday evening services, weekday ministry and community activities — not to mention the children attending elementary or nursery school there — staff believes nearby residential property should be adequately buffered.
In this case, it contends that Parcel 17 — next to the church buildings and loading area — lacks adequate buffering from the church noise and activities that would occur on a regular basis. Staff believes that, on this 80-acre parcel, "adequate room could be found to provide additional screening adjacent to the most intense uses."
* Cumulative impacts: "If this application is approved, almost 6,200 [church] seats will have been approved through Special Exception and Special Permit in this portion of the Route 29 Corridor," states the report. "Even if vehicle occupancy rates of three worshippers per vehicle are achieved, which is unlikely, if all of these worshippers were to come and go at the same time, the demand from church traffic alone would roughly equal the entire hourly capacity of Lee Highway in this area."
Noting that other nearby churches often hire off-duty police officers to close a lane of traffic on the main roadway to allow congregants to exit onto Route 29 on Sundays, staff said this action "further exacerbates" that road's capacity to handle through traffic.
So staff recommends that the Korean church commit to staggering its hours of operation, by at least a half hour, to minimize conflicts with other church traffic. It also suggests the Korean church work with the county's Department of Transportation to determine appropriate times for its services, in relation to those of the nearby churches.
Staff also noted that the church removed a previously proposed Park and Ride facility from its application. But, said the report, "Given the site's location along a major commuter route (Route 29) and proximity to I-66 (less than three miles), a Park and Ride facility is both appropriate and desirable on this site."
Additionally, staff stressed that the amount of paved parking required by the church amounts to more than 6.5 acres — a sizeable area of impervious surface on land zoned residential conservation (RC).
IT'S ALSO concerned that, should this use be approved as proposed, "it would be the largest church ever proposed in the RC District," both in terms of seats (2,500) and square footage (205,000). The next largest church approved, Centreville Baptist, has 1,700 seats and 87,830 square feet.
After recommending denial, staff stated that, if the Board of Supervisors chooses to approve this application, staff recommends the church be made to comply with 43 specific development conditions to help mitigate the effects of its proposal.
These include requirements regarding transportation improvements, lighting, hours of operation, no more seats added in the future and only permission to build Phase One and not Phase Two.