STAFF PERSON:                                                                   Rebecca Ragsdale

PLANNING COMMISSION:                                                  August 31, 2004 

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS:                                               October 13, 2004




Applicant’s Proposal: 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 (Attachment A).  The specifications for the proposed expansion are as follows:



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.


Petitions: 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 Areas). 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 Burnley Station Road (Route 641) and Watts Passage (Route 600).  The property lies within the Rivanna Magisterial District in the area designated as Rural Areas 2 by the Comprehensive Plan.


Character of the Area: The area surrounding the church is rural agricultural and scattered residential. 


Planning and Zoning History: 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.


Zoning Violation: 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)


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:


1.       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. Contact the County’s Landscape Planner for a recommended species list.




2.       The use of native plants is encouraged where opportunity allows to reinforce Albemarle County’s unique natural setting.


3.       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.  


As the church is a use of greater intensity than residential or agricultural uses within the RA, greater setbacks are recommended to reduce impacts to adjoining properties. A comparison of commercial and rural side, front, and rear setbacks is as follows:








75 Feet

30 Feet


25 Feet

50 Feet


35 Feet

50 Feet


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.


that the character of the district will not be changed thereby,


Low-density residential, agricultural/forestal uses, and open space uses characterize the Rural Areas district. The additional parking areas may have a negative visual impact on the rural character of the district.    


and that such use will be in harmony with the purpose and intent of this ordinance,


The Rural Areas zoning district provides for the preservation and protection of agricultural and forestal lands and activities; provides for water supply protection; provides an area of limited service delivery; and provides for the conservation of natural, scenic, and historic resources.  The church is viewed as a use that is supportive of rural Albemarle County residents.  Staff has reviewed the purpose and intent as contained in Chapter18, Sections 1.4, 1.5, and 1.6 of the Albemarle Zoning Ordinance.  In the opinion of staff, the proposed use would not conflict with the purpose and intent as described in the Zoning Ordinance.


with the uses permitted by right in the district,


This use would not prevent by-right use of the adjacent properties.


with additional regulations provided in Section 5.0 of this ordinance,


Section 5.0 of the Zoning Ordinance contains no additional regulations governing churches.


and with the public health, safety and general welfare.


The public health, safety, and general welfare of the community is protected through the special use permit process, which assures that uses approved by special use permit are appropriate in the location requested.   


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.


The Engineering Division has indicated that all of VDOT’s comments should be conditions of approval with this special use permit. Engineering has also noted that the proposed BMP/ storm water basin must be constructed with 3:1 slopes; that Health Department approval of the septic system shall be required and that amendments to the existing Storm Water Management Plan and Erosion Control Plan are required. These amendments would address the relocation of the storm water management basin and its increased capacity.


The Health Department has reviewed the proposed request for increase in seating capacity and parking expansion. The Health Department has indicated their preliminary approval of the increase in church attendance based on the applicant’s proposal to use a flow equalization tank.




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


  1. The Comprehensive Plan suggests that churches are supportive to the rural areas of the County.
  2. 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:

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

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



Recommended Action:


Based on the findings contained in this staff report, staff recommends approval of SP 2003-018, subject to the following conditions:  


  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;

  1. 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.




  1. Application
  2. Tax Map & Location Map
  3. Concept Plan
  4. Conditions of Approval for SP 2001-033
  5. Zoning Letter dated June 3, 2004 regarding violation
  6. Historic Preservation Planner Comments
    Return to PC actions letter