Mount Vernon residents are fighting plans by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to build a church along the George Washington Memorial Parkway between Fort Hunt and Mount Verenon.
Action on the Mormon church project was postponed by the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals in February because not all property owners, including the National Park Service, had been notified. The board is expected to decide the issue at its meeting on Tuesday, at 9 p.m. in the county building.
The proposed church, which would be constructed about 300 feet from the parkway, fronting on Price's Lane, is opposed by the Mount Vernon Council of Citizen Associations, which represents more than 45 civic groups and 10,000 homeowners.
The Park Service, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association (which owns George Washington's historic home at Mount Vernon) and new Mount Vernon Supervisor Sandra Duckworth have not opposed construction of the church. All, however, have expressed concern that it could set a precedent for construction of institutional buildings in residential neighborhoods along the parkway.
Parkway superintendent Don Castleberry and Mount Vernon resident director John Castellani said most of their concerns would be relieved if the proposed church, with its lighted parking lot for 207 cars, were completely screened from the parkway by evergreens. The church building would be about 200 feet long. Its 80-foot steeple would be visible from the parkway but a dense planting of trees could screen most of the church building itself.
"Perhaps a church would be preferable to a subdivision of more than 20 houses, which could be built on the site," Castellani said. The 500-acre Mount Vernon estate extends to Little Hunting Creek, several hundred yards from the proposed church site.
Hundreds of homes -- and the Cedar Knoll Restaurant right next to the church site -- are now visible from the parkway, many because homeowners cut down trees on Park Service land to improve their views of the Potomac River, according to Castleberry.
The Park Service is now studying plans for a major landscaping of the 48-year-old parkway to screen houses, Cedar Knoll and buildings near National Airport in preparation for the 250th anniversary celebration of Washington's birth in 1982, Castleberry said. The parkway near National has become more of an industrial and commuter road, hedged in by Crystal City's high-rise buildings, airport parking lots and fuel storage tanks. Two additional high-rise mini-cities, Airport City and Potomac Center, also are being planned immediately adjacent to the parkway.
"The scenic parkway was built in honor of Washington with the pennies, nickels and dimes of children across the country, and we feel we as citizens are the custodians of this parkway, too," said Mary Jane Orr, secretary of the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations.
"The council's position is that you shouldn't allow an institution to build in a residential zone where the county master plan calls for single-family houses," Orr said. "We're also concerned about traffic on residential streets and the parkway and the impact of a brightly lit church parking lot."
A spokesman for the Mormon Church in Northern Virginia, Eugene A. Gulledge, said he was sorry and surprised at the opposition to the church. a"We want to be a good neighbor and feel we're going out of our way to be one."
Gulledge said his church, which now has about 25,000 members in the Washington area and eight church buildings in Northern Virginia, planned to locate the Mount Vernon church near the center of the 7.3-acre site. He said the church hoped to keep most of the existing trees on the land and plant more trees to screen the building and parking lot from the parkway and nearby houses.
The Mount Vernon church is one of two churches the Mormons are proposing to build in Fairfax County to accommodate their swelling congregations, Gulledge said. Both buildings would contain about 20,000 square feet and cost about $1.8 million, exclusive of the land. The Mount Vernon site cost about $750,000, Gulledge said.
The second proposed church, on Sydenstricker Road in Springfield, would be of contemporary design while the Mount Vernon church would be Georgian-colonial, said Gulledge, a developer who said he searched for four years for the two building sites. "There's been no opposition to the Springfield church," he said.