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Korean Church Issue Fuels Impassioned Pleas

Strong testimony on both sides of the issue marked last week's 3 1/2-hour public hearing on the Korean Central Presbyterian Church. More than two dozen people had their say before a packed house, last Thursday, Jan. 12, in the Fairfax County Government Center.

HAVING outgrown its home in Vienna, KCPC wants to relocate its 4,500 members to Centreville. The pros and cons were argued before the county Planning Commission, and Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch deferred decision until Jan. 26.

Until then, the commissioners have lots to mull over. They'll weigh traffic considerations and the impact of stormwater runoff. And although their recommendation to the Board of Supervisors will be based on land use, those testifying last week made impassioned pleas.

"This would set a dangerous precedent for what could go on the rest of the RC [residential-conservation zoned] land in the county, as well," said Frank Ojeda of the Rock Hill Civic Association.

But, countered church-member Peter Rim of Little Rocky Run: "There's an increasingly Korean minority population in this area." Referring to Colin Powell Elementary and the new Korean mall in the Old Centreville Crossing Shopping Center, he said, "We're not just building a place of glass and concrete — we're building a community."

KCPC proposes a 205,000-square-foot place of worship along Route 29, next to Bull Run Elementary. Besides a 2,000-seat sanctuary and 500-seat chapel, on weekdays the facility would house a private school for grades K-2, plus a nursery school, with up to 100 students each. A future child-care center is also planned.

Phase one would be the 175,000-square-foot sanctuary building, including a rectory, and phase two would be another 30,000 square feet for office and education space in a second building.

But it would all go on 80 acres of environmentally sensitive land between Route 29 and Compton, Pleasant Valley and Bull Run Post Office roads. So the church must obtain a special-exception permit from the county to build there.

AT THE START of the hearing, county staff coordinator Tracy Strunk noted a large portion of the land isn't owned by the church. If KCPC builds next to it, she said, "The unconsolidated parcel would be rendered unattractive for residential development. Staff believes that, barring a reduction in intensity, this application is inappropriate for this site and staff can't recommend approval."

But land-use attorney Lynne Strobel, representing the church, said KCPC has been "diligent in addressing the land-use issues" and ironed everything out except for a "philosophical difference about the size of a place of worship on land zoned RC. The purchase of this property shows a commitment to this parcel and to Fairfax County. And this plan is the result of many design changes and compromises by the applicant."

She said the church would install a traffic signal at its main entrance off Route 29 and also make improvements to that road. And it would provide a police officer, if necessary, to help with peak-hour traffic.

Staff wanted a park-and-ride facility on the site, but Strobel said KCPC removed it from the plan at a neighbor's request. Besides, added At-Large Planning Commissioner Jim Hart, it would more than likely "serve Gainesville or Loudoun County commuters, rather than anyone in the neighborhood."

Chuck Almquist, with Fairfax County's Department of Transportation, said a park-and-ride there would "take trips off county roads" and "could serve residents coming from Bull Run Post Office Road and Pleasant Valley." But Planning Commissioner Frank de la Fe said he has "a problem with government telling a church to provide a public facility."

As for the unconsolidated parcel, Strobel said the absentee property owner didn't want to sell and the church can't force him to, so it did its best to buffer it. Agreeing, Commissioner Janet Hall said it's the owner's choice not to sell, so any adverse impacts from KCPC are beyond the church's control.

Staff also wants phase two eliminated, but KCPC believes it's a vital component. "As the county grows, it's often up to a church to provide services that Fairfax County can't provide," said Strobel. "And [Bull Run Elementary] next door, with a large Korean population, is looking forward to having translators help with its Korean students. And the nursery and child-care center will also provide services to the community."

WITH NEARLY 1,000 paved parking spaces planned, Hart wondered what could be done to mitigate impacts on water quality in the Occoquan Watershed. But engineer Jeff Lohr said soil conditions there "would not allow infiltration into the soil, the stormwater-management facility will handle all the runoff and a marsh area will also take care of the water-quality issues."

Hart noted, as well, that Sundays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., only one lane of Route 29 east is used because of traffic coming from Centreville Baptist Church. So he asked if the county's traffic study was done using one lane or two, and Almquist replied, "Two." Church traffic consultant Chad Baird said KCPC's traffic study also assumed two lanes would be used, so it would have to re-examine it based on just one lane.

Donna and Gary Bradford live next to the site, and Donna said the church has worked hard to accommodate their requests. "KCPC will put a 100-foot buffer and a 7-foot, board-on-board fence along our property line," said Donna Bradford. "And they'll allow us to tap into their water and sewer lines."

But she said they don't want a park-and-ride next to them, since they'd be the only house around, and Koch agreed with them. And while "not thrilled" about living next to KCPC, she said, "We do understand their need to build a new church."

KCPC pastor Danny Ro said the church celebrated its 32nd anniversary last year, "but a church without a community is not a church, at all." He said KCPC has received national acclaim and its senior center received a presidential award.

For the members, he said, "Sunday is a day of sharing our lives together and worshipping as one, big family." But they can't do it altogether, anymore, in Vienna. "We want to build our lives in Centreville," said Ro. "If you'd accept it, you'd make our dream come true and you'd be helping me, personally. I'm currently preaching five times on Sunday — help me preach just one time."

Young Son, a church member from Vienna, told how KCPC had revised its plan several times, in deference to others' wishes, and reduced the building size and number of parking spaces. And Bruce Oliver, former principal of Thoreau Middle School for 16 years, said KCPC is next door and "we had an extremely positive and beneficial relationship."

AS THE members outgrew their church, he said, "They used our classrooms and parking on Sunday and were respectful of our property. And when schools had to develop an evacuation plan, without hesitation they allowed us to use their church to accommodate our students and staff."

Rock Hill's Frank Ojeda noted that, by right, 16 homes of 6,000 square feet each could be built on the site and they'd still only comprise 96,000 square feet of construction. The church, he stressed, would be 205,000 square feet and "both Rock Hill and Sully Station II are in opposition to having a church of this size and magnitude."

John Connolly, a WWII veteran from Sterling, spoke as "a friend of the Korean-American people," and received loud applause. "They have a strong sense of family," he said. "It's a caring community that helps people in need. They want to practice freedom of religion, and they ought to be able to build a church so they can do this."

U.S. Marine James Lim of Fairfax said KCPC's youth ministry sent him e-mails and care packages in Iraq. "The church prays for all 14 of us from the church serving in Iraq, by name, every morning," he said. "And that gives me a great sense of peace and confidence."

Mark McConn, president of the Sully District Council of Citizens Associations, spoke against KCPC because it would go on land downzoned in 1982 to protect water quality. The building would be "more than twice as big as the next largest church in the RC," he said. "And it would be bigger than 85 percent of the buildings in the Westfields office park."

Architect Armado Fernandez said the church would be lit discretely, would be lower than the tree line and would be constructed of high-quality brick, pre-cast concrete or glass. Planning Commissioner Hart asked him to put it in writing so it wouldn't "turn out to be something else."

Bull Run Estates' Judy Heisinger said KCPC has been good about meeting with the neighborhoods and land-use committees and revising its plan downward. And while wary of the traffic it'll bring, she believes the church could coordinate its service times with the other area churches. Said Heisinger: "I'd like the congregation to be able to worship all together."

CLIFTON'S Young Ho Chang, former Fairfax County Department of Transportation head, wasn't involved in the traffic study, but reviewed it. He said that in 2010, the intersections of Route 29 and Pleasant Valley Road, and Route 29 and KCPC, "wouldn't meet traffic standards acceptable for Fairfax County, even without the church."

Noting that the church will provide road improvements such as a traffic signal, plus dual turn lanes into the site, Chang said the traffic study incorrectly assumed that "all the churches along Route 29 would have services and full occupancy at the same time and three people per car driving at the same time in the same direction."

Saying that Route 29 is "part of a larger corridor and network," he said planned improvements to I-66's capacity will mitigate KCPC's traffic impact. He also said staggering the churches' start times by 30 minutes would help.

But Commissioner Kenneth Lawrence said "there seems to be an assumption that everyone will cooperate." Furthermore, since a large percentage of the church "will be coming from elsewhere," he asked if some members could carpool. (Strobel said about 60 percent live in Fairfax County).

Church member Peter Rim of Little Rocky Run said KCPC "instills principles of high ethics and values, volunteerism and compassion" and that translates to the church helping in the community where needed. He said it could also provide a venue for town hall meetings.

Won Sang Lee, former pastor of KCPC for 26 years, said the church could start its services at 7:30 a.m., if it would ease the traffic woes. Besides that, he said, "If you deny this application, we will become homeless."

AS FOR local business-owner Joe Fernandez, he quoted Centreville Community Foundation (CCF) statistics that 18 percent of Centreville residents are of Asian descent — mostly Korean — and this number is growing.

He said the Korean community "has contributed to Fairfax County's business economy for decades and will do the same to the Centreville economy" and social fabric. "The various minorities make up the majority of people here," added CCF President Marvin Powell. "We are proud to support [KCPC]."

Commissioners John Byers and Laurie Frost Wilson both expressed concern about "the runoff from all that pavement" and urged KCPC to reconsider its parking. Yet when Strobel said members stay after services for fellowship, Wilson said that's even "more problematic because, if you've got everybody sticking around and not leaving before the next people come [for the next service], I wonder if there's even enough parking?"