Albemarle County Planning Commission

August 31, 2004


The Albemarle County Planning Commission held a meeting and public hearing on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 at 6:00 p.m., at the County Office Building, Room 241, Second Floor, 401 McIntire Road, Charlottesville, Virginia. Members attending were William Rieley; Rodney Thomas, Chairman; Jo Higgins; Marcia Joseph; Cal Morris; Bill Edgerton and Pete Craddock, Vice-Chairman. 


Other officials present were Wayne Cilimberg, Director of Planning & Community Development; David Benish, Chief of Planning & Community Development; Bill Fritz, Development Process Manager; Susan Thomas, Senior Planner; Rebecca Ragsdale, Planner; David J. Neuman, Architect for the University of Virginia and, Greg Kamptner, Assistant County Attorney. 


Call to Order and Establish Quorum:


Mr. Thomas called the regular meeting to order at 6:05 p.m. and established a quorum. 


Public Hearing Items:


SP 2004-00015 Bethel Baptist Church Amendment (Sign #90 & 92) - Request for amendment of a special use permit for an existing church to allow for a parking lot expansion, in accordance with Section of the Zoning Ordinance which allows for church uses in the RA, Rural Area.  The subject parcel, described as Tax Map 21, Parcel 25, contains approximately 3.004 acres zoned RA.  This site is located just east of Route 29 North at the intersection of Route 641 (Burnley Station Road) and Rt. 600 (Watts Passage).  The property lies within the Rivanna Magisterial District in the area designated as Rural Areas 2 by the Comprehensive Plan.  (Rebecca Ragsdale)    DEFERRED FROM THE AUGUST 24, 2004 PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING


Ms. Ragsdale summarized the staff report. This special use permit for Bethel Baptist Church is to amend a special use permit that was approved in 2002.  With SP 2004-015, the applicant is requesting approval to amend SP 2001-033 to allow for expansion of the parking lot and an increase in seating capacity for the church.  The specifications for the proposed expansion are as follows: 

An increase in the church’s seating capacity from 216 to 345. 

An increase in parking spaces from 54 to 119 spaces.


The concept plan that was approved in 2002 is attached to the staff report in Attachment H.  The church is currently offering Sunday morning and evening services and a Wednesday evening service at 7:00 p.m.  There are also various church activities groups that may use the church throughout the week.


The new parking areas would be located on Burnley Station Road. With the previously approved plan there was no parking located along that road frontage.  There will be some additional parking located in the corner of the property. The property is located on Burnley Station Road and the corner of Burnley and Watts Passage Road, which is fairly close to Route 29.  It is a triangular shaped lot of about 3 acres. The area surrounding the church is rural agricultural and scattered residential. There has been a church located on this property for quite some time. The existing church building was constructed in 1935 and has been used continuously by congregations since that time. Department of Historic Resources records indicate the frame portion of the building dates to 1917. The first special use for this property was not approved until 1998.


SP 1997-064: Special Use Permit SP 1997-064 was approved by the Board of Supervisors to allow the church to expand parking onto the adjoining property, which the church had purchased in 1997. The approval of the special use permit resolved a zoning violation, as the church had already expanded onto that property without special use permit or site plan approval. 


SDP 1998-059: A request for a site plan waiver was approved for the improvements to the church site, including parking.


In January 2002, the applicant received a Notice of Official Determination of Violation from the Zoning Administrator. Among the violations cited, two sheds were constructed on the site and were being used as classrooms; the parking lot was not in compliance, landscape screening was not installed in accordance with the plan and trees had been removed, lighting was not fully shielded; and traffic control islands were not installed per the site plan.


SP 2001-033: The Planning Commission reviewed this special use permit in March and April 2002. The Board of Supervisors granted approval with conditions (Attachment D) on June 19, 2004. Primary improvements associated with the request included a 7,480 square foot addition to the church and an additional 26 parking spaces for a total of 54. The request also allowed the use of two storage sheds as temporary classrooms.


SDP 2002-083:  This site plan was approved and reflected the proposed building addition, parking lot improvements, and entrance changes approved with SP 2001-033.


Zoning Violations (VIO-2004-103): On May 11, 2004, the applicant received a Notice of Official Determination of Violation for construction activities inconsistent with the approved site plan and approved special use permit for the property. Specifically, these construction activities included grading past the limits of disturbance, removal of trees that were to be saved and building size. This notice of violation ordered the applicant to cease from further deviation from the approved site plan and special use permit. The applicant currently remains in violation but has stopped construction activities and is only working on interior improvements to the new church addition. (Attachment E of Staff Report)


Comprehensive Plan: The Comprehensive Plan identifies this site and surrounding area as being located in the Rural Areas. Churches provide a service to rural area residents and the use is considered to be consistent with the policies within the Comprehensive Plan.


Rural Area: The primary objective of the current Rural Area section of the Comprehensive Plan is not compromised with this proposed application. Agricultural and forestal activities and watersheds will not be directly adversely impacted by this proposal. Service delivery to the Rural Areas would not be expanded to accommodate proposed facilities. However, the proposed parking lot improvements associated with this SP would result in additional lot coverage, and features such as retaining walls, not typically characteristic of the Rural Area.


Historic Preservation Plan: The goals of protecting historic resources, recognizing their value, pursuit of additional protection measures and incentives to preserve Albemarle’s historic and archeological resources are all applicable to this special use permit request. The County Historic Preservation planner has provided comments that indicate the original church building has been identified as historic by the Department of Historic Resources, although it has not been evaluated for listing on the State or National registries. There were also several historic sites identified in the vicinity of the church property. (Attachment F) The Historic Preservation Planner has offered the following to mitigate negative visual impacts of the proposed parking:


Landscaping is recommended to be installed in a staggered fashion or in clusters or groupings of large and/or small trees in combination with associated shrubs. The character of the planting shall be similar to a woodland edge with canopy trees, sub-canopy trees, and shrubs. The applicant should contact the County’s Landscape Planner for a recommended species list. The use of native plants is encouraged where opportunity allows reinforcing Albemarle County’s unique natural setting.


Plant varieties shall be identified on the plan, and provide a planting schedule on the plan to include a complete listing of all trees and shrubs. This listing shall include a mixture of shrubs shall measure 3’ to 4’ and 5’ to 6’ at maturity, and a minimum of 3 shade trees of no less than 3 ½” caliper at planting shall be included.


The applicant has not provided a detailed landscaping plan, to include species, number and size of plants, as part of this special use permit. After consultation with Zoning and other staff, the applicant did agree to submit a landscaping plan, which will include more plantings than the minimum required by the Zoning Ordinance, as a condition of approval.


Staff Comment: Staff will address each provision of Section of the Zoning Ordinance:


The Board of Supervisors hereby reserves unto itself the right to issue all special use permits permitted hereunder.  Special use permits for uses as provided in this ordinance may be issued upon a finding by the Board of Supervisors that such use will not be of substantial detriment to adjacent property.


There has been a church at this location since 1935, with ongoing congregational activity. However, starting with the special use permit hearing in 1998, adjacent property owners have expressed concern about the church expansion. Specifically, residents expressed concerns regarding lighting. Most recently, one of the property owners to the east expressed concern regarding the proximity of proposed parking to the eastern property line, including noise impacts. With the current special use permit, the applicant has not proposed outdoor lighting.  Staff has included a standard condition regarding the lighting if the applicant chooses to include lighting on the site plan.  There are no outdoor recreational uses proposed on the site or any other uses besides the church use.


The Commercial District side and rear setback standards adjacent to rural areas are the larger of the two and would further protection of the rural area. A condition of approval has been offered to require compliance with section 21.7.2 standards for side and rear setbacks adjacent to rural area districts. As the Rural Area Zoning District front yard setbacks are greater, the RA front setback would remain. These setbacks are conditions consistently applied to churches and were a condition of approval for the special use permit approved for the Church in 2002. Typically, along with the commercial setbacks, a 20 foot undisturbed buffer is also applied to side and rear property lines adjacent to rural/residential uses. With the proposed parking lot expansion, the applicant is only proposing this buffer along the eastern property line. The proposed parking lot and grading will occur within 20 feet of the adjacent property to the north. The applicant has indicated that the adjoining property owner is aware of this and does not have concerns with this.


This particular proposal may not be entirely with keeping with the character of the district.  There will be some retaining walls, a big storm water management pond and more parking than typically characteristic of the Rural Area.


Initially, with this special use permit application, the applicant had requested to maintain the Burnley Station Road entrance to the church property. After review by VDOT, it was determined that the entrance does not meet site distance requirements for a commercial entrance. The applicant then revised the plan to include closing the entrance to Burnley Station Road, which was proposed with the last special use permit for this site. VDOT then offered the same comments as with the last special use permit and these comments have been made conditions of approval. Comments include closure of the entrance onto Burnley Station Road; relocation and upgrade of the entrance onto Watts Passage Road, which should be designed in accordance with the Commercial Entrance Standards. Staff provided a handout regarding the ornamental fencing that was referenced in the condition.  The update was to clarify what was meant by ornamental fencing just in case that issue needed to be discussed further.  The fencing is proposed around the storm water basin, which was highlighted in pink on the copy of the concept plan.  That is the only area where the ornamental fencing is proposed. That originated with the applicant’s consultant.  The condition that was in the staff report suggested that ornamental fencing is specified in the condition because staff did not want to leave it open for chain length fence or anything that would be detrimental to character of the area and the historic structures.


Staff has identified the following factors that are favorable to this request:

The Comprehensive Plan suggests that churches are supportive to the rural areas of the County.

The original church building has been located at the site since 1935 and expansion often ensures a continuing congregation.


Staff has identified the following factors that are relevant to this request:

Adjacent property owners have had concerns regarding expansion of the parking area.

The applicant has a history of non-compliance with approved special use permits and site development plans.


Staff recommends approval of the special use permit with inclusion of all of the conditions recommended in the staff report.  If the Planning Commission so desires, staff recommends a possible modification to condition 2 that says that an ornamental fence shall be provided around the storm water retention basin and shall be a minimum of 6 feet in height, and that chain link fencing shall not be used. 


Mr. Thomas asked if there were any questions for Ms. Ragsdale.


Ms. Higgins asked if there was a requirement that the storm water basin be fenced at all.


Ms. Ragsdale stated that the engineering comment did not specify that, and she was not sure if it was an actual requirement.  Originally this area was proposed with a 2:1 slope, which has been revised to 3:1 slope. 


Ms. Higgins stated that she had seen storm water ponds where an applicant installs a safety bench so that if someone were to slip in that they don’t immediately slide to the deep part.  She voiced concern about starting to impose requirements like that since it was the applicant’s option.  Also, she felt that a 6 foot fence seemed to be kind of excessive.


Ms. Ragsdale pointed out that the 6 foot ornamental fencing did originate with the applicant on the first submission of the concept plan.  Staff placed that in the condition so that they did not forget something that could cause negative visual impacts.  Whether or not it was a County requirement, staff did not explore that issue. 


Ms. Higgins stated that since there is a double staggered row of buffered plantings along there, she asked if there was a complaint or concern raised by an adjacent property owner.


Ms. Ragsdale stated that adjacent neighbor has expressed concerns to staff about the parking and the church improvements getting closer to her property line and having impacts on her property.


Mr. Benish stated that the proposed condition was not based on an ordinance requirement.


Ms. Joseph asked if the parking was based on ordinance requirements.


Ms. Ragsdale stated that in the Rural Areas that the Zoning Administrator could require a parking study if the applicant is not proposing to meet the typical calculations used, which was one per four parking spaces.  The Zoning Administrator looked at car counts and corresponding attendance counts to come up with a formula.  She determined that based on the parking that they could provide on the site and what the maximum attendance would be.  Therefore, the applicant has provided parking for the number of spaces which corresponds with their maximum attendance that they would be able to park there. It may be more parking provided, but it was based on the information that the applicant provided.


Mr. Benish stated that it was based on the area of assembly that the applicant proposed.


Ms. Joseph stated that it was based on the area of assembly and not the seating.


Mr. Thomas asked if staff had any information regarding the violation of getting into the grading past the limits of disturbance.  He asked if staff could elaborate on why that happened.


Ms. Ragsdale stated that she did not have an explanation as to why that happened, but that the Zoning Division has a new way of enforcing it. The applicant removed some trees that were supposed to be saved according to the site development plan.  In order for the applicant to come into compliance, ultimately they have to have this proposed special use permit approved along with a revised site plan that reflects the existing conditions and then complete the site work.


Mr. Thomas asked if there were any more questions for Ms. Ragsdale. There being none, he opened the public hearing and asked the applicant to come forward to address the Commission.


Brian Smith, engineer and consultant for the applicant, stated that they understand the conditions proposed by staff and agree to them.  He pointed out that he had discussed the conditions with the Pastor, Wendell Lamb, who was in the audience tonight if they have any specific questions for him.  If the Commission has any technical questions, he would be happy to answer them.


Mr. Edgerton asked why the violation occurred.


Mr. Smith stated that he did not know the answer to that question, but perhaps Pastor Lamb could address that issue.


Mr. Thomas asked Pastor Lamb to come forward and address Mr. Edgerton’s question.


Mr. Edgerton stated that they were in violation of the previously approved site plan because of excessive grading and the destruction of trees that had been mandated to be saved.  He requested that Pastor Lamb explain to the Commission why that happened.


Pastor Wendell Lamb stated that on the Burnley Road side of the church towards Route 641 they did take down some trees that were at the edge of an old road bed.  The root systems of the trees were actually coming out of the sod.  Those trees were very unsightly.  He stated that the church wanted to replace those trees with some nicer trees and would do so with the new site plan. The old trees were just shrub trees.  The other violation regarding the grading was that they did have a dirt pile with about 3 dump truck loads of dirt that went beyond the silt screen at the graded line.  It was located about 15 feet on the other side of the silt screen.  The top soil dirt was dumped outside of the area where they were supposed to have dumped it because it was beyond the grade line.  He stated that he was responsible because he made the judgment call that the other trees should go and that other trees needed to be planted.


Ms. Joseph asked if the church planned to have any outdoor play areas for children or a cemetery.


Pastor Lamb stated that they don’t have a play area or cemetery.


Mr. Morris asked if the church made the decision to put up the fencing.


Pastor Lamb stated that they made the decision that they would do it if that was what the County wanted.


Brian Smith stated that this storm water detention basin has gone through a couple of designs.  The first design had 2:1 slopes.  There was a similar situation that he did on another site plan in a different zoning of Light Industrial where he could get by with 2:1 slopes if he could provide some security and some other things to the pond.  One of the security items was putting the fence in.  After they revised the plan to have 3:1 slopes we talked about having that keeping that fence there for two purposes being security and attractiveness.  There is not magic thing to the 6 feet.


Ms. Higgins asked if he was saying that the fence was necessary or not.  Then the second thing is that at 6 feet the fence would be very visible since normally in the rural areas one would see split rails and more agricultural types of fences.


Mr. Smith stated that part of that was his concern about liability.  He stated that he was responsible for designing that storm water detention pond.  If somebody does not want that pond or that fencing there for some security reason, then he had to express concern about some liability issues coming back to him particularly when it was in a residential area.  He feared that there might be neighboring children that might be curious about the pond, particularly if a big storm came through like the one recently in Richmond.  He stated that he felt that the fence was necessary, but that it did not have to be 6 foot tall.  He pointed out that his main concern was keeping the children out of that area.


Ms. Higgins pointed out that the Building Code has a regulation about the height of fencing for a pool, which was either 48” or 52”.


Mr. Morris asked if that was his decision regarding the fencing, and Mr. Smith agree that it was his decision.


Mr. Thomas asked if there were any more questions for the applicant. There being none, he asked if there was anyone else present who would like to speak regarding this application.  There being no one, he closed the public hearing to bring the matter back before the Commission for discussion and a possible action.


Ms. Joseph passed around some pictures taken by Julie Mahon for the Commission to review.


Mr. Rieley stated that he would make a couple of comments about the discussion the Commission had last week about the relationship about their action in general for the religious land use act.  A couple of these conditions seem to perhaps be a little over reaching in light of that act.  It seemed that there was a pretty specific reason for the requirement for additional planting on the application that they had last week because of the proximity to the busy roadway.  This is a rural church in a rural setting which is typically exemplified by very simple site plans and very simple plantings, particularly not a lot of shrubs which are specifically mentioned on page 3 on the long list of historic preservation plan.  He stated that he was not comfortable in adding additional requirements in a setting like this as a condition for a church.  Similarly on the issue of the fence, it seems that the only issue is a safety issue and that whether it is ornamental or not is none of their business.  The height of the fence is a matter for the Engineering Department to determine and for the engineer’s comfort level about his own liability.  He preferred to see condition 2 changed to something saying that Engineering shall warrant that the storm water pond meets the County’s safety requirements.  That would be this request on the same footing with every other project in the County.  He suggested that condition 13 be eliminated, which seems to talk about an issue that is a matter of preference and not a matter of principle.


Ms. Joseph stated that she preferred having more landscaping provided, but not necessarily the way that it was mentioned.  The site has an enormous amount of parking on a little site, and the applicant is in violation of removing the required trees.  She suggested that the plan require some groupings of trees and not necessarily a shrub row.  She agreed with Mr. Rieley about the fencing in that if it was not required that they should not include it in the conditions. She suggested that the fencing be left up to the applicant.


Mr. Benish suggested that the fencing condition be removed because staff was just trying to reflect what the applicant wanted to do.


Ms. Higgins agreed with Mr. Rieley’s comments.  She stated that there were a couple of conditions that might be sensitive such as all parking areas shall drain to the proposed BMP storm water basin.  She stated that this should meet their storm water requirements as any other plan should.  She asked if this was making this different. She pointed out that would be a standard in the storm water design.  Therefore, she questioned why this was listed as a specific requirement.  She agreed with leaving the fencing if the applicant puts a certain type of fencing on the play plan as per the applicant’s decision on safety, then yes it becomes part of the site plan.  But, she did not feel that a special condition was warranted for it.  The other part of where the landscaping overlaps is on page 3.  On page 3, she pointed out that she was getting confused about the historic preservation plan.  This has the flavor in the way that it was worded in item 3, for example, about 3.5 caliper of plantings and things like that.  From this she was starting to perceive that historic preservation and entrance corridor seem to be going down the same tract.  She stated that if they could go to native plans, which was condition 2, that she would very much applaud that.  But, she felt that everything in the County was going to be in some association with historic, but it seemed like they were dwelling on that and possibly getting away from reality.


Ms. Ragsdale stated that there were advisory comments that were not made into specific conditions.  She felt that the Historic Planner was trying to offer suggestions as far as ways to soften and ways to do the landscaping to be in keeping with the rural area and lessen the impact of things like the retaining walls and the parking.  She stated that was where the comments originated.  The condition regarding that all parking areas shall drain to the proposed BMP storm water basin was requested by the Engineering Department.  That condition was carried over from the previously approved special use permit.  She felt that the condition originated by staff because they preferred that design for the use of that storm water management basin.


Mr. Benish pointed out that some of the conditions addressed the violations on the site.


Mr. Rieley agreed with Ms. Joseph that it was always good to have some additional plants between a big parking lot and the road and it was certainly good to disperse the rain water.  But, his concern about the things that really relate back to the things under the historic preservation plan that hook into the requirement of condition 13 is that when you require a condition he felt that it was implicit that the plan is unacceptable, i.e. deniable if it does not have that condition.  That is not the case.  The Commission does not have the legal authority to deny this plan if it does not have as many trees as they would like to see. He felt that the Commission has to acknowledge that.  Literally the Commission does not have the right to turn this plan down because they don’t like the planting plan or because they don’t think there are adequate plantings.  That being the case, he felt that this should not be required. The Commission should only require what the ordinance requires.


Mr. Thomas asked if it was the consensus of the Commission to delete condition 13.


Ms. Joseph, Mr. Edgerton and Mr. Morris disagreed.


Mr. Craddock suggested that they change the wording to include encouraged.


Mr. Edgerton questioned if the Commission did not have any concern about the neighbors.


Mr. Morris stated that the neighbor’s concern regarded the parking.  Therefore, he felt that the landscaping condition should be included.


Mr. Thomas stated that the applicant had agreed to leave that condition as written.  He suggested that condition to remain because of the parking lot. 


Mr. Morris suggested that the second sentence of condition 13 be deleted.


Mr. Edgerton asked if anybody else was concerned that the additional parking was pushing the church to a 10 foot setback on the Burnley Station Road.


Mr. Thomas stated that he was not concerned about that.


Ms. Higgins pointed out that 10 foot was the required setback.


Ms. Joseph pointed out that setback was normally seen in a commercial area and not in the rural areas.


Mr. Rieley summarized that the suggestion made was to delete condition 2 and to delete the second sentence in condition 13. 


Mr. Thomas asked if all the Commissioners agreed with the suggestion.


Mr. Rieley stated that he did not agree, but would not vote against the request because of it.


Ms. Higgins disagreed because if the landscaping regulations in Section 32.7.9, which was also the industrial landscaping regulations, was not enough that the ordinance needs to be changed and not to add an arbitrary percentage to a church plan to make up that difference.


Ms. Joseph stated that it was required as a special use permit because it was something out of the ordinary in the rural areas.  When it is a special use permit they can ask for something special from the applicant because it is something that they don’t normally see.  There are residences around the church site that will be affected by this.


Mr. Morris moved for approval of SP-2004-00015, Bethel Baptist Church Amendment, with the conditions as amended. 


  1. The church's improvements and the scale and location of the improvements shall be developed in general accord with the site plan entitled “Bethel Baptist Church”, prepared by Brian P. Smith, PE Civil Engineering, Inc. and dated April 1, 2004, last revised August 17, 2004;
  2. An ornamental fence shall be provided around the proposed storm water retention basin and shall be a minimum of six feet in height;
  3. The Church’s sanctuary shall not exceed 345 seats;
  4. Health Department approval of existing well and septic systems;
  5. Commercial setback standards for side and rear setbacks, as set forth in Section 21.7.2 of the Albemarle County Zoning Ordinance, shall be maintained adjacent to residential uses or residentially zoned properties (including RA zoned property).  The front setback shall conform to the Rural Areas standard as set forth in Section 10.4 of the Albemarle County Zoning Ordinance;
  6. A 20-foot undisturbed buffer, as set forth in Section 21.7.3 of the Albemarle County Zoning Ordinance, shall be maintained along the eastern property line.  There shall be no removal of the existing pines within this buffer;
  7. There shall be no day care center or private school on site without approval of a separate special use permit;
  8. VDOT approval of new entrances and closure of existing entrances shall be required. The entrance to Burnley Station Road (Route 641) shall be closed and the existing entrance [approximately fifteen (15)-feet wide] to Watts Passage (Route 600) shall be closed and relocated to the south.  The proposed new entrance shall meet commercial standards and radii and profiles of the entrance shall be provided on the site plan;
  9. The residential dwelling on the property shall be used only as a parsonage residence;
  10. All existing gravel areas not included in the existing and proposed parking areas and travelways shall be replaced with vegetative cover;
  11. All parking areas shall drain to the proposed BMP/storm water basin;  
  12. All exterior light fixtures shall be shown and approved on a site development plan and shall be full cutoff luminaire, fully shielded and arranged or directed to reflect light away from adjoining properties and away from adjacent roads;
  13. An additional 25% of landscaping materials, above the minimum landscaping materials required by Section, shall be installed within the parking area. The additional landscaping shall consist of a mixture of evergreen and deciduous plant materials and shall be approved by the County Landscape Planner and/or Historic Preservation Planner.


Ms. Joseph seconded the motion.


The motion carried by a vote of (7:0). 


Mr. Thomas stated that SP-2004-00015, Bethel Baptist Church Amendment, would be heard by the Board of Supervisors on October 13.




With no further items, the meeting adjourned at 9:35 p.m. to the September 7, 2004 meeting.


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