The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), in a surprise move, has granted a Nov. 19 public hearing to Providence Baptist Church, which is seeking a special-use permit to build new church facilities at the corner of Lewinsville Road and Leesburg Pike, west of Tysons Corner.
Less than a month ago, the BZA killed a similar application by the church to move to the same site after residents of nearby neighborhoods protested that the proposed church was not in character with the existing residential community.
Opponents of the church's plans said the new November hearing date caught them by surprise. However, the seven-member BZA already had said it would waive the standard one-year waiting period for a rehearing on the case if church leaders came up with a new development plan.
Providence Baptist now is situated on 2.7 acres at the intersection of International Drive and Leesburg Pike, adjacent to the Tysons Corner Shopping Center. The church sold that site last November in a complicated $5 million deal to Linpro Co., a Philadelphia-based development firm with offices in Reston and Gaithersburg.
That sale is dependent on the church finding a new location in the Tysons area, according to Linpro and church officials. Linpro assembled the seven-acre site at Lewinsville Road, about 2 1/2 miles from the present church, before the church asked the BZA to approve the special-use permit.
In Fairfax, churches are allowed in residential neighborhoods if they are granted special-use permits by the BZA. No rezoning action by the county board of supervisors is required.
The Lewinsville Road-Leesburg Pike site is across Brook Road from another church and across Leesburg Pike from the National Wildlife Federation facilities. The seven acres include an existing private school building, which would be used by the church if the plan to move is approved. The school, the federation and the existing church operate under special-use permits, according to county officials.
BZA members, when they vetoed the project, told former State Sen. Robert C. Fitzgerald, the church's attorney, that the project was too large for the site and needed to be scaled down.
The rejected plan called for more than an acre of floor space under one roof, according to county records. Residents of both the Woodside and Spring Hill communities complained that the building was too big for the site. Several residents said the church's plan to continue using traditional chimes, ringing at specific times, would be an intrusion into the peace of the neighborhoods.
The McLean Citizens Association's planning and zoning committee initially approved the church's plan to move, but reversed that position before the BZA took action.
Stephen Hubbard, head of that committee, said this week that the key to the dispute is the size of the church. "They [church officials] came in with a full-density plan," Hubbard said. He said the church had failed to address neighborhood concerns about chimes and the use of loudspeakers during Nativity presentations at Christmastime.
R. William Hard, Linpro's operating partner, said architects are working on new plans for the church facility in preparation for the new hearing date.
"We plan to file a preliminary development plan" for the current church site with Fairfax zoning officials within a few days, he said, even though the church's relocation has not been completed. Hard said his company plans to build an office building, at least 10 stories tall, on the existing site.
Commercial real estate brokers consider Providence Baptist's current site, adjacent to the Bloomingdale's store at Tysons, to be one of the most visible and valuable sites for redevelopment in the Tysons Corner area. The county supervisors will have to act on Linpro's request to build the offices because the new use involves a rezoning.