An application to develop 39 townhouses on a five-acre parcel originally planned for a church has received the blessing of the county’s planning staff and the Planning Commission. It is headed to the Board of Supervisors for final action.
The property, located at the corner of Middlefield Drive and Cascades Parkway, was gifted to the Riverside Presbyterian Church by developer William Hazel in the early 1990s, with the intention it would be used to help the church construct a permanent home. However, constraints on the property, including grading requirements and the size of the parcel, have made it impossible for Riverside to use it for their permanent home.
As Pastor Brian Clark told the commission, the property would only allow for 131 parking spaces after the building was sited—not enough to accommodate the large congregation. And the planned office across Cascades Parkway that could have served as overflow parking was converted years ago to townhouses, he said. To accommodate the parking a multi-level structure would be needed, according to church representatives.
“What you have is a mere numbers thing that leaves us stuck,” Clark said.
By 1999, the church realized it would not be able to use the property and began seeking other churches that might be interested in purchasing it. But other churches found the same problem—the property was too small to accommodate a large church and the site improvements needed to allow for construction cost too much—around $1 million—for a small church to afford. “That is when we were open to selling to developer,” Clark said.
MI Homes approached the church about purchasing the site. The proceeds from the sale would be used for Riverside to purchase land elsewhere. That plan, Clark and MI Homes representative Keith Martin said that meets Hazel’s intent in donating the five-acre property.
“This was a gift to the church to use as they want, but to be used for them to build a church somewhere in the community,” Martin said.
There was some concern raised by a couple commissioners about changing a church site to a residential use, particularly if it was gifted, but a majority of the commission said over decades the original plan of any community will change.
“I don’t think gifts should have strings attached,” Commissioner Kathy Blackburn (Algonkian) said. “Things do change. The area they were talking about that was supposed to be commercial became homes. Things changed. The overall benefit to this community from this church is real.”
“I am very cautious in putting too much emphasis on the nature of he gift and where it stands right now,” Commission Chairman Robert Klancher (Broad Run) said. “That really is a civil agreement between two private parties. It is not a land use issue.”
One resident of the neighboring single-family homes expressed concerns about adding the residential units to the neighborhood—even if the Cascades homeowners’ association does not vote to annex the homes into the HOA.
“I was told by developer and builder that this land will be for church use,” Greg Giles, who bought his home in 1994, said. “If you’re wondering do some of us feel like there has been a breach of faith, a breach of trust, the answer is yes.”
But Martin said since the church owned the property that was the reason it was marked as a future church site on the plan for Cascades, and project manager Evan Harlow said he knew of no documents guaranteeing that it would be developed as a church. Harlow also noted that the change from church to residential would not impact the required 10 percent of civic uses in the Cascades community, nor would it exceed the allowed percentage of residential uses. In addition, Harlow told the commission, the zoning for Cascades allows for residential density up to four units per acre, and with the additional 39 units, the overall density would only be 2.97 units per acre.
Commission Vice Chairman Helena Syska (Sterling) abstained from the vote, saying she was still concerned about the change from a church use to a residential use but that she did not want to outright oppose the plans. The remaining eight commissioners voted in favor of the application.