An attempt by a Tysons Corner Baptist church to move to a new site along Leesburg Pike has turned into a political brouhaha that is likely to divide several McLean and Vienna neighborhoods well into the Christmas season.
The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) this week deferred a decision until Dec. 17 on the controversial proposed move of Providence Baptist Church from its site adjacent to the Tysons Corner Shopping Center to a seven-acre tract at Lewinsville Road and Leesburg Pike (Rte. 7).
That action came after a long and confusing debate that got off to an awkward start after BZA member Ann Day asked the board to postpone the hearing to allow Dranesville Supervisor Nancy Falck to speak. That proposal angered both opponents and proponents of the church's move in the standing-room-only crowd that jammed the hearing room Tuesday night at the county's Massey Building in Fairfax City.
Falck said later in the week that the BZA had gotten her message confused and that she wanted to defer the decision, not the hearing. She said she wanted the deferral to allow her to act "as a mediator" to try and resolve the dispute.
"There has got to be some way to work this out," Falck said. She said she wanted to get residents and church leaders to meet in "neutral territory. It can work. I don't know whether it will work, however."
The question of the future of Providence Baptist Church has been before the BZA at least four times since midsummer. The BZA rejected the plan for the new location on Sept. 17, but voted to grant the church a new hearing if it scaled down the size of the project. That set the stage for this week's hearing.
Residents of the Woodside, Springhill and Dogwood communities near the proposed church site have opposed its move to their area. Ernest Berger, head of the Woodside citizens group, said he was disappointed by the deferral, adding, "We thought we had the case won." He said his group would be willing to meet with Falck and church leaders, even though he said he doubted such a meeting "will do much good."
During an elaborate slide show, Berger told the BZA there is "overwhelming opposition to the church" from 90 percent of the households in his community. He said there was nothing comparable to the proposed building west of the Dulles toll road along Rte. 7. Attorney Grayson Hanes, representing the church, said there are more than a half dozen churches nearby and a large National Wildlife Federation building almost directly across Rte. 7 from the proposed church site.
The church's move is tied to a complicated deal with Linpro, a Bethesda-based development company. Linpro has a contract to buy the church's existing two-acre site adjacent to the shopping center. That contract is contingent on the church finding a new home. Linpro would like to go ahead with development plans at the Tysons Corner site, but now "will have to wait until Dec. 17," said Linpro managing partner William Hard.
Hanes said the church has met many of the objections raised by its would-be neighbors by reducing the size of the building, promising to build an additional turn lane along Brook Road, which intersects with Lewinsville Road near Rte. 7, and by adding trails and landscaping plans to the proposal.
Residents also have opposed the use of chimes and outdoor speakers during the Christmas season, but church officials said chimes will not be broadcast into the community and loudspeakers will not be used as part of the church's annual Nativity scenes.
In Fairfax, churches are allowed in residential neighborhoods under special permits issued by the BZA. No rezoning action is involved.