Crowd Skeptical of Church Plans

Crowd Skeptical of Church Plans

Community members question church’s proposal to increase density.

A comprehensive plan amendment that would raise the planned density of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church property met with consternation by many of its neighbors Tuesday, March 7.

The nomination, which was submitted by the church as part of the Area Plans Review process, seeks to increase the planned density of the 10-acre property from 1-2 dwelling units per acre to 2-3 dwelling units per acre. The reasoning behind this was so the church’s density could match that of its surroundings, said Lynn Strobel, an attorney who represents the church. Currently, the surrounding properties are zoned 2-3 dwelling units per acre.

However, the plan amendment would help with any future plans Good Shepherd might have if it wanted to expand further, said Strobel.

"The church would like some flexibility for the future," she said. "The future, as we know, is hard to predict."

The church may also consider subdividing an acre of their land in the northern portion and selling it for residential development, she said.

"Needs change, the composition of the congregation changes, and construction costs have risen greatly," said Strobel. "It's just a concept."

Fairfax County planning and zoning staff recommended against the proposed amendment. According to planner Indrani Sistla, although the amendment would help the church property match the density of surrounding properties in the plan language, the character of the land would change if it were redeveloped. A chart prepared by planning staff showed that if the entire 10.33 acres were developed at a maximum of 3 dwelling units per acre, the land could have as many as 31 houses on it.

"We are concerned about the land use compatibility, especially with the northern parcel," said Sistla.

THE IDEA that the church might sell off part of its property caused a stir among many of the audience members, who felt it was an unnecessary move.

"That one-acre parcel is a lovely piece of property, and has already been encroached upon by developers," said Joan Martin, who lives close to the church.

"This is zoned for a church, and we want it to stay a church," said resident Mary Ann Beck.

The property in question had been added by the church a number of years ago, said Martin, and when the church bought it from the original residents, it did so with the understanding that the land would remain undeveloped.

Doug Seymour, who was representing the church, was a senior warden when Good Shepherd bought the property. He said he did not think such an agreement was recorded. In fact, he said, the actual title owner of the land is not Good Shepherd itself but the Episcopalian Diocese of Virginia. The church has no immediate plans to sell the property and no plans whatsoever to vacate it, said Seymour.

"The church will be here forever, as far as we're concerned," said Seymour.

HOWEVER, if the church were to sell the land, said Strobel, a planned density of 2-3 dwelling units per acre would allow for 6 or so houses on the property.

Martin said she was concerned about the traffic that would be created by any development on the Good Shepherd property.

"I think it's really an issue," she said. "Olley Lane is a two-lane road, it's meant for the kind of zoning currently there."

A few residents supported the amendment. Cynthia Marple, who lives close to the Good Shepherd property, said she did not think a plan change would greatly increase the density of the land if it were developed.

"I've never had a problem with the church," she said. "My house is zoned for 2-3 [dwelling units per acre], I know that they're applying for no more than that, and I would support that use for the property."

Several residents questioned the point of the amendment, if in fact the church did not have any concrete plans to subdivide the land.

"I don't see the point of this," said resident George Jones. "If there's no plan to sell the land, why even do this?"

The reason the church is proposing the plan amendment now, said Strobel, is because the APR cycle is a four-year cycle, and the next chance they would have to amend the plan after this would be in 2010.