The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals this week approved the controversial move of Providence Baptist Church from its valuable site next to the Tysons Corner Shopping Center to a seven-acre tract at the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Lewinsville Road.
The 5-to-1 vote came after months of bitter debate between residents of nearby affluent McLean neighborhoods and church representatives.
The approval opens the door for the redevelopment of the church's 2.7-acre tract at the corner of Leesburg Pike and International Drive at Tysons Corner. That parcel, according to local commercial brokers, is one of the most valuable sites in the Tysons area because of its proximity to the existing shopping center.
Linpro, a Washington development company, bought the land from the church for an undisclosed price months ago, but the deal was contingent on the church finding a new location nearby. Linpro purchased the site the church will move to as part of the Tysons land deal.
William Hard, Linpro's managing partner, said his company "will file conceptual development plans for an office building within a month or so" on the present church site. He declined to discuss the height of the building his company might seek to build.
All zoning applications in the Tysons Corner area are on hold pending the outcome of a citizens task force study of county recommendations for heights of buildings to be built in the entire Tysons area.
In recent months, residents of the Woodside community, which abuts the land where the church will move, had vigorously opposed the proposal. Residents complained that the church was too large for the site, would create safety hazards and would generate too much traffic for existing roads to accommodate.
Fairfax Supervisor Nancy Falck (R-Dranesville) tried to get the church and residents to compromise, but this week she told BZA members, in writing, that "clearly all issues are not resolved."
Speaking for Woodside residents, John Mollenholz told the BZA that "there have been no negotiations" on the issues that concerned his neighbors. "We see tremendous health and safety problems," he said, referring to traffic problems and his claims that the site cannot handle the septic system the church will need.
"We are asking this board to protect us," he said.
But Grayson Hanes, attorney for the church, said the plan "is now in harmony with the community."
The original development plan called for a single-story contemporary church that residents described as "as big as a football field."
Before winning BZA approval, church officials produced a revised plan calling for a two-story "traditional Jeffersonian" building with a roof line lower than the pitch of the original single-story plan. A 40-foot steeple will top the building. Residents originally had opposed the steeple and criticized the congregation for using outdoor chimes and loudspeakers during Christmas pageants at the Tysons site.
The church said it will not use the outdoor speakers in the future.
The new church will seat 460 people. The BZA imposed more than a dozen conditions on development before approving the expansion, including a requirement for a landscaped buffer near the church parking lot and limits on the hours and number of children who can attend a childcare program three days a week.
Church officials said they do not know when they will start construction.