Church Cancels Garage

Church Cancels Garage

Neighbors more comfortable with Heritage Fellowship’s ten-fold expansion plans.

For several dozen neighbors opposing the expansion of a Reston church, it was as if an 800-pound elephant had left the room last week when an attorney representing the church announced revised plans to nix a proposed three-story parking garage.

In February, Heritage Fellowship United Church of Christ first met with the Hunter Mill Land Use Committee at the start of its approval process to replace its existing 218-seat facility on 2505 Fox Mill Road to make way for a newly designed, 844-seat, 49,000-square-foot church.

Early on neighbors voiced fears about increased traffic and the size of buffer areas, but their ire focused around the 311-space parking garage.

“Neighbors weren’t exactly excited about our parking structure,” said Stuart Mendelsohn, an attorney with Holland & Knight, LLP, who represents the church, before unveiling a new, parking-garage-free design. Mendelsohn told the land use committee at a third meeting for information last Tuesday, May 16 that the revised design also eliminates about 3,000 square feet from the structure and adds more landscaping around the periphery.

“I believe from the discussions we’ve had with the neighbors that they like [this design] a lot more,” said Mendelsohn. With surface parking replacing the garage, the new design includes about 30 fewer spaces than the original design, said Mendelsohn.

WITH THE IMMOVABLE object removed from the discussion, neighbors feel much more comfortable with the overall expansion. “As far as I’m concerned, the parking structure is gone and that’s a really, really good thing,” said Donna Turner, who lives at the Courts of Fox Mill, a neighborhood situated to the north and east of the church. At previous meetings, Turner, and several other neighbors, repeatedly told the committee they feared the prospect of a parking deck in their backyards.

“We’re encouraged to see the parking structure gone, obviously,” said Kimberley M. O’Halloran-Cordray, an attorney with Rees, Broome & Diaz who represents the Courts of Fox Mill, but she said the neighbors still have outstanding concerns.

“We are appreciative of the fact that we have gotten off of a parking structure,” said Charlie Moses of the Courts of Fox Mill, who added that neighbors are now “cautiously optimistic” that the revised plans will also account for other concerns, including adequate buffer areas and storm water mitigation efforts.

Mendelsohn said the revised plans, including all the engineering, will be submitted to the county this week. “I think it will be able to address these concerns,” he said.

Committee members, too, generally agreed that the project was closer to approval. “It looks like you addressed what we talked about,” said Dave Gibson, a committee member.

“It’s so much nicer,” said Betty Little, a committee member.

DESPITE THE LOSS of the parking garage, church officials remain pleased with the overall design. “We feel it is going to meet our needs for the next 20 years,” said Roderick Mitchell, chairman of the church’s building committee. Yet, church officials don’t anticipate further space reductions from the revised plan. “We feel this is the space that we’ll absolutely need for the services and programs that we provide,” said Mitchell.

Currently, Heritage Fellowship holds its Sunday services at the auditorium at Herndon High School because its congregation has grown too big for its existing facility. About 560 members attend the church’s first service, and about 270 attend the second, according to church officials.

Further revision, however, may be required or requested by the committee or the county.

COUNTY OFFICIALS have said that the size of the church, as well as other design details, will be scrutinized once the new plan is submitted. “As shown [in the original plan], we would have recommended denial,” said Tracy Strunk, senior staff coordinator, Zoning and Evaluation Division, Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning. “It wasn’t just the parking garage, although that was a large part of it.” Strunk added that county staff plans to review the revised design, particularly details related to landscaping buffers, storm water mitigations and the size of the church.

The church, which was scheduled to present its plans to the Planning and Zoning Commission in June, has asked for and received a deferral of application to provide more time for staff to review the revised plan.

In the meantime, Mendelsohn said he plans to continue discussions with neighbors. “We think it’s well on its way to being a successful project.”

“It’s certainly a much better place than where we were a month ago,” said Moses.