SP-2004-00023 Grace Community Church (Sign #41) - Request for special use permit approval, as set forth in Section of the Zoning Ordinance, for a church building to be constructed on a 19.4 acre parcel.  A waiver from the critical slopes requirements, as set forth in Section 18.4.2 of the Zoning Ordinance, has also been requested.  The site is zoned RA Rural Area.  The property, described as Tax Map 21, Parcel 11, is located in the White Hall Magisterial District on Rt. 606 (Dickerson Road), west of State Route 29, and south of the border with Greene County.  The property is zoned RA Rural Area and the Comprehensive Plan designates this property as Rural Area 1.  (Rebecca Ragsdale)


Ms. Ragsdale summarized the staff report. This special use permit is for a church, which would be 1,900 square feet and seat about 500 attendees with a total of 170 parking spaces and some outdoor recreational areas.  This church is currently meeting at one of the County’s schools where the average attendance is about 245.  Grace Community Church is not proposing any daycare of school uses with this application. The site is located on Dickerson Road, which runs parallel to Route 29 North. It is a wooded site, which happens to be located adjacent to two other churches.  Most recently the Commission reviewed Northridge Community Church, which is located directly south to this proposed site.


The Comprehensive Plan designates this area as Rural Areas, which does support the church land use.  Staff has concerns with such a large church at build out with such a large expanse of parking in the Rural Areas.  But the applicant has addressed that concern with tree preservation, which is shown on the site plan.  The site is completely wooded at present and that would be about 87 percent of the 19 acre site.  It is also located in front of Piney Mountain, which is an identified mountain resource in the Mountain Protection Plan.  The applicant has the developed the scheme with respect to the terrain and has tried to design with nature to minimize the clearing and grading of the site.  Typically for churches staff recommends increased setbacks than what the Rural Areas Ordinance requires, which would be 50 feet on the side and rear property lines and 75 feet for the front property line that is consistent with the Rural Areas zoning district.  The closest setback would be on the western property line adjacent to the North Ridge Community Church where the parking would actually be within 20 feet of the other church site.  The development would be about 1,900 square feet at build out, but the applicant would most likely build a first phase and then a second phase.  The first phase would be about 5,000 square feet.  Staff has some concerns about developing and clearing the site for the phase two with uncertainty for when that might happen.  There is a condition that addresses that concern in the staff report.  VDOT had some concerns about Dickerson Road because it is not currently paved.  Dickerson Road is only paved to the entrance of North Ridge Community Church site. VDOT proposes the same recommendations for this proposal for Grace Community Church as they did for the church right beside it that the applicant dedicate 25 foot of right-of-way along Dickerson Road for any future improvements that they might consider.  VDOT also had some concerns about the alignment of the entrance and proposed that the applicant relocate the entrance from their original design to line up with the other church across the road.  In addition, they requested that the applicant pave from the entrance from North Ridge Community Church eastward towards where their proposed entrance will be.  The applicant has agreed to these conditions, which are part of the recommended conditions in the staff report.  This item was advertised as needing a critical slope waiver, but after engineering review it does not need a critical slope waiver.  Therefore, it is not mentioned in the staff report and there is no need for action on that.  In summary, staff has identified several factors that are favorable to this request, which includes the tree preservation and mitigation of the disturbance that is proposed to the natural resources on the site and that the Comprehensive Plan does suggest that churches are a supportive land use to the Rural Areas.  Staff recommends approval of this special use permit with the conditions as stated in the staff report with the exception of number 8, which addresses phasing.  Staff proposes that it read if phasing of staff development is proposed, each phase shall include only the infrastructure and parking necessary to support the improvements of that phase.  That would eliminate the portion of the condition that addresses grading.  The applicant’s consultants are present if the Commission has any questions. 


Mr. Thomas asked if there were any questions for Ms. Ragsdale.  There being none, he opened the public hearing and asked if the applicant would like to address the Commission on this item.


Mark Keller, of Terra Partners representing Grace Community Church, stated that several members of the church were present tonight including Reverend Don Ward and the architect for the project with Bushman and Dreyfus, Keith Scott.  Mr. Scott was kind enough to bring along some graphic renderings that really bring the site plan to life from a bird’s eye view and an on site perspective.  The graphic renderings will be helpful to address any concerns about the mass or scale of the building.  The church recognizes that they are building in and around growth areas both in Albemarle and Greene County.  Therefore, they purchased a 19 to 20 acre property knowing that they did not want to be pigeon holed on their site and wanted to be able to grow with the community.  Staff has addressed their concerns about the grading by eliminating that portion of condition 8.  If there were any questions about that, he would be happy to address those concerns. 


Mr. Thomas asked if any Commissioner had any questions for the applicants.  There being none, he asked if there was anyone else present who would like to speak regarding this request. 


Katie Hobbs, resident of Albemarle County, stated that the churches being allowed in the Rural Area has possibly been taken beyond its original concept for rural small churches serving the persons who lived on the surrounding lands. Now there seems to be more and more churches building new churches in the Rural Areas rather than in the growth area of the County where our Comp Plan says we want growth to remain. 


Ms. Ragsdale stated that regarding citizen comments on this application, staff did hear from an adjoining property owner, Mr. Haney, who was supportive of this request.


Mr. Thomas asked if there was anyone else present to speak on this application.  There being no further public comment, the public hearing was closed to bring this matter back to the Commission for discussion and possible action.


Mr. Rieley stated that he would like to make a general comment and then ask Mr. Kamptner’s opinion.  It is relative to whenever they have churches come before the Commission, it seems that the Commission has to be cognizant of the fact that they were operating within the boundaries of the religious land use act, which was federal law.  The federal law restricts to a very large extent what their normal discretion is when dealing with churches.  He stated that essentially the religious land use act says that a local government can only restrict a religious land use when there is an overriding governmental concern that is affected by the proposal and that the remedy must be the least onerous remedy possible to address that specific overriding governmental interest.  The bar is pretty high for that. 


Mr. Kamptner stated that the terminology was changed to protect the innocent, but the concepts are there.  He noted that they could not substantially burden religious exercise.  The Courts still are still figuring out what that exactly means.  Staff’s radar goes up when a religious institution submits an application and they are sensitive to the act in their evaluation. 


Mr. Rieley stated that he felt that it was a very handsome plan and that he would be supportive of it if it were not for that.  He raised the issue because he felt that the staff report should address those standards.


Ms. Higgins stated that it seems that staff has pointed out things such as the VDOT recommendation to get the paving picked up from the last church and that the setbacks are consistent with the adjacent church. She asked if condition 11, the additional landscaping materials requirement, was also a consistent church recommendation. She pointed out that this was a really heavily wooded site.  The applicant asked David Wyant and herself to go out and look at the site.  There were a couple of questions that she had.  She asked if with the relocated entrance if there would be a treed area between the existing road and the way this entrance works. This is a very substantially wooded site and the existing trees are not weak trees, which is not typical.  She noted that after looking at that she wanted an answer to that question.  The second thing was on item 8, based on the plan that she saw and as the road runs on it she was particularly interested that grading was not limited because typically you have the people before you have the rest of the building.  By the explanation from the applicant of the main part of the building that they would build first, they would almost build two-thirds of the parking with maybe a third left.  After the road is paved it would be difficult to balance the dirt on the site.  They would have two choices. They could clear more area to balance the dirt or they will truck the dirt in and out of a road that is only minimally improved.  She felt that there is not reason to do that.  In other words the property would almost be 70 percent graded and the 30 percent would not be worth opening it up again.  Therefore, she supported that comment.  But, if staff could advise about item 11 she would be interested.


Ms. Ragsdale stated that was a condition that was also approved with the North Ridge Community Church.  She pointed out that she was not working at the County when that request was approved, but in reading through that application it seemed that it was a bit more wooded than it was now.  There were some concerns about tree clearing with that particular application along Dickerson Road. With Grace Community Church they are proposing to preserve more trees along Dickerson Road than the other church.


Ms. Higgins questioned why they should pick up that condition from the other church when the sites are totally different.  Condition 11 is not needed because of the substantial area of the site. The other site is a church on top of a hill and it is a fairly blank hill and is readily viewed. The proposed church’s site will not be the same.  She supported allowing the applicant to do their required landscaping because it was located in a very substantial forested area.


Mr. Thomas asked if any other Commissioner had any comments.


Ms. Joseph disagreed with Ms. Higgins.  She pointed out that the parking area came very close to the other property line that they shared with the church and they were losing a lot of trees in that area.  The parking lot is enormous, which was going in the Rural Areas.  She asked that the Commission keep that in mind.


Mr. Edgerton stated that he favored keeping the landscaping in the parking lot and Mr. Craddock concurred.


Mr. Thomas pointed out that the consensus of the Planning Commission was to keep condition 11.


Mr. Morris moved for approval of SP-2004-00023, Grace Community Church, with the modification to condition 8 and all of the other conditions recommended in the staff report.


1.       The church’s improvements and the scale and location of the improvements, with the exception of storm water management facilities and the front setback (The required front setback shall be 75 feet from the edge of the right-of-way after the 25 foot dedication referenced in Condition number 11.), shall be developed in general accord with the concept plan entitled, “Special Use Plan for Grace Community Church,” prepared by Terra Partners, LLC, and dated May 17, 2004, last revised July 27, 2004.

2.       If the lawful physical construction of any structure necessary for the use authorized by this permit is not commenced within 5 years after the permit is issued, the permit shall be deemed abandoned and the authority granted hereunder shall terminate.

3.       The church's sanctuary shall not exceed 500 seats.

4.       All exterior light fixtures shall be full cutoff luminaire and fully shielded and arranged or directed to reflect light away from adjoining properties and away from adjacent roads.

5.       Commercial setback standards, as set forth in Section 21.7.2 of the Albemarle Zoning Ordinance, shall be maintained along the side and rear property lines.

6.       Day care or school uses are prohibited unless approved through a special use permit amendment.

7.       Subject to the approval of the Virginia Department of Transportation, prior to the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy, the applicant shall surface State Route 606 (Dickerson Road) from just beyond the church entrance southward to the end of the existing asphalt surface.

8.       If phasing of site development is proposed, each phase shall include only the parking and infrastructure necessary to support the improvements of that phase.

9.       As part of the site plan application, a tree conservation plan shall be submitted and approved to the specifications of Section of the Zoning Ordinance.

10.   The applicant shall dedicate 25-foot dedication of right-of-way along the State Route 606 property frontage.  Any plats and/or deeds necessary for this dedication shall be provided by the applicant prior to site plan approval.

11.   An additional 25% of landscaping materials, above the minimum landscaping materials required by Section, shall be installed within the parking area, to offset removal of trees and plant material from the site for construction. The additional landscaping shall consist of a mixture of evergreen and deciduous plant materials.


Ms. Higgins seconded the motion.


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


Mr. Thomas stated that SP-2004-0023, Grace Community Church, would go to the Board of Supervisors on October 13 with a recommendation for approval.    


Return to PC actions letter