New Mount Zoar Baptist Church had hoped to build a place of worship in Centreville — and it still does. But the county denied its application last week so, for now, it's back to square one.
The 200-member church is currently on Braddock Road in Fairfax, but is selling its land there and planned to construct a new, one-story, 16,265-square-foot church on nearly six acres it purchased on Ordway Road.
NEW MOUNT ZOAR proposed a church with 450 seats and 158 parking spaces. And it was looking forward to having services in its new sanctuary by late 2008.
But since it would be on environmentally sensitive land zoned Residential Conservation (RC), at least 50 percent of the site must remain undisturbed. And last Tuesday, April 24, before the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), Mount Zoar was unable to meet that requirement.
"County staff still recommended denial," said BZA member Jim Hart. "And the fact that they weren't at 50 percent, undisturbed open space was a big issue."
The church needed a special permit from the county to build in a residential area, but complying with the open-space condition proved more difficult than it anticipated.
Attorney Steve Fox, representing the church, explained that the property is encumbered by easements — a sanitary-sewer easement to the north and a Fairfax County Water Authority easement to the south. And it's not allowed to build on them.
At the April 17 meeting of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee, the panel was a bit more understanding of the church's plight. Although the WFCCA's Carol Hawn and Ted Troscianecki voted no, the overall committee recommended approval, 6-2.
"The church was at 41 percent open space and couldn't get more because two areas [of its land] had to be disturbed for water and sewer lines," said WFCCA Land-Use Chairman Jim Katcham. "Given the small lot-size, another 5 percent or so, in my view, doesn't make that much difference."
But to the BZA, it did. "I made a motion to approve it with some modifications to the development conditions, but it failed, 2-4," said Hart. "So I made another motion to waive the one-year, waiting period for [the church's] refiling [its application], which was approved, 6-0."
He said the BZA suggested Mount Zoar either construct a smaller building with less parking or consolidate the parcels around its site to have more land with which to work. Said Hart: "It's only about six acres, and it's difficult to achieve 50-percent, undisturbed open space — and a building, parking lot and stormwater management."
SO WHAT'S the next step for the church? "We're going back to the drawing board and will refile sometime within the month," said Fox. "We'll have to redesign the building or put some of the administrative functions into a two-story configuration — which would greatly increase the cost."
He said it was a "hard case" for the BZA, but noted that the "two, significant easements" on the church's property consume some two-thirds of an acre total. "And we feel that they should either have been excluded from the total site acreage, or [the county] should have given us credit for them as undisturbed, open space," said Fox. "I urged [the BZA] to make a distinction — we're not disturbing it."
Besides that, he said, from an engineering standpoint, Mount Zoar's application met the "best-management practice" standards for water quality. But the BZA's rationale, said Fox, was that, "if a repair had to be made [on the property set aside for the easements], these areas would be disturbed."
In the end, the BZA voted 4-2 for denial. Fox said it had approved other church applications in the past with less than 50-percent, undisturbed open space, but for different reasons.
Still, Mount Zoar will not give up, and neither will Fox. "The pastor and congregation are hopeful that we will be able to come up with a reasonable solution because they're committed to their site," he said. "We'll be back."