SP- 2004-00045 Charlottesville First Assembly (Sign #65) - Request for amend the existing special use permit to allow an expansion of the church use in accordance with Section of the zoning ordinance.  The property described as Tax Map 61, Parcel 153A1 is zoned R-4 and contains 4.71 acres.  It is located in the Rio Magisterial District on Rt. 631 (East Rio Road) between CATEC and the railroad bridge.  The Comprehensive Plan designates this area as Institutional.  (Sean Dougherty)


Mr. Doherty summarized the staff report.  The applicant’s proposal is for a special use permit to construct additional parking to serve church activities for Charlottesville First Assembly. It is located on Rio Road between the intersection of Rio Road and the Southern Railway Bridge and CATEC.  The amendment of the existing special use permit will add 56 parking spaces. Currently the church has a shared parking agreement with CATEC, but desires its own additional parking. The applicant and owner is Charlottesville First Assembly represented by Elliott Fendig and Ellie Carter of Tara Partners, LLC.  The proposed parking lot sits on a slope below grade of Rio Road between 9 and 16 feet.  The Southern Railway line borders the property to the northwest and Rio Road to the southeast.  CATEC is located along the southern edge of this pie shaped parcel.  Across from the church is the Covenant Church of God, which is a larger congregation. The development along the Rio Road across the railroad tracks is mixed including convenience and service oriented businesses.  The remaining of the surrounding neighborhoods is comprised of low to moderate density residential.  Staff has reviewed the request for compliance with the provisions of Section 13.2.2 of the Zoning Ordinance and recommends approval. 

In 1999, the Charlottesville First Assembly congregation rezoned what was known as Tax Map 61 Parcel 153A (the parcel on which the proposed parking lot is proposed) from CO to R-4 (ZMA 99 – 18). That allowed the church to have the same zoning (R-4) on both parcels. In addition, the church acquired a special use permit (SP 99 – 75) for both parcels, bringing the church into conformity.

The Comprehensive Plan designates this area as Institutional in Neighborhood One. Uses allowed within this designation include public and private schools, universities and colleges and their ancillary facilities, such as stadiums and golf courses.

As this is a review for an additional parking lot, only the following neighborhood model principles apply:

Pedestrian Orientation - The location of the parking lot, adjacent to the church, provides visual orientation. Rio Road is proposed for widening, but is currently lacking a sidewalk on either side of the road.

Neighborhood Centers – The church will continue to serve as a neighborhood center.

Relegated Parking - The applicant and staff thoroughly investigated options for screening this parking lot from Rio Road. The parking lot lies well below the grade of Rio Road. It is barely visible to northbound traffic on Rio Road and is screened from adjacent southbound travel by the thick tract of trees lining the railroad tracks. It was determined there was little the applicant could do, in addition to the required street trees and parking lot trees, to mitigate visual impact. In addition, when widening Rio Road, VDOT plans to gain access to the property along the road and the railroad bridge to facilitate construction. It is likely that the widening process will harm or require the removal of any additional screening trees or shrubs. In support of the Neighborhood Model, the existing and proposed parking is to the side of the building. This allows a view, unobstructed by parking, from the road.

Zoning staff has reviewed the proposal for conformity with parking regulations.  The Zoning Ordinance requires that one space per three fixed space for church use.  In addition, the Zoning Ordinance allows for a 20 percent increase in the number of spaces allowed for the church. Including a 20 percent increase is 138 spaces, and the church is proposing 138.  Although the applicant has a shared parking agreement with CATECH, the church desires to provide all required and extra spaces on its own property.  There is one outstanding issue with this which is that the VDOT right-of-way is not shown on the plan, but the plan was designed to accommodate the right-of-way.  A fairly simple solution to fix this is to show the right-of-way on the plan. Staff can discuss this issue further with the Commission. 

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

  1. The proposed parking lot is logically sited
  2. Applicant thoroughly investigated options for additional screening along Rio Road.
  3. The church will continue to provide a neighborhood service to surrounding residential areas.

No unfavorable factors have been identified.


Staff has reviewed this request for compliance with the provisions set forth in Section of the Zoning Ordinance and recommends approval with the conditions as stated in the staff report.


Mr. Thomas asked if there were any questions for Mr. Doherty.


Mr. Edgerton stated that if the shaded area on the attachment was the new parking area, then it looked like there would be some reconfiguration of some of the existing parking.


Mr. Doherty stated that some of the existing parking is going away.


Mr. Edgerton asked if the parking spaces that were perpendicular to the existing church going away.


Mr. Doherty stated no that the double loaded ones directly beside the church are staying. Those parking spaces are just being modified.


Mr. Edgerton asked if the applicant has a plan that works.


Mr. Doherty stated yes that there were parking spaces superimposed generally in the location of the existing parking spaces.


Mr. Edgerton pointed out that he was having problems with the drawing.


Ms. Higgins asked if staff had a full sized drawing.


Mr. Doherty provided the full sized drawing.


Ms. Joseph asked if staff has the originally approved plan so that the Commission could see the difference between what was approved last time and what the new proposal is.


Mr. Doherty stated that he had the information on the previous special use permit review.


Ms. Joseph asked if the red line on the plan was where the new right-of-way is located.


Mr. Doherty stated that this is where the new VDOT right-of-way needs to be. 


Ms. Joseph asked if that line was ten feet away from the parking.


Mr. Doherty stated that he was not sure, but it appeared to be located just within that.


Mr. Rieley stated that it actually does not look like it is quite within that area.


Ms. Higgins stated that was not negotiable and the plan would have to be adjusted to meet that.


Ms. Joseph pointed out that one of the arguments was that they could not get plant materials within the area.


Ms. Higgins stated that it has to be a ten foot strip.


Mr. Edgerton stated that the transitional area was causing some confusion.


Mr. Doherty reviewed the proposed plan. He pointed out that some of the existing spaces are going away.  There is a new drive isle and some new parking spaces. The level lines are old parking spaces.


Mr. Edgerton asked if staff was comfortable that the 138 spaces can fit in these spaces, and Mr. Doherty stated yes.


Ms. Higgins stated that there might be way to address those concerns when it talks about recommended conditions of approval. The Commission needs to make sure that they are implying that the parking lot meets all of the engineering standards that are applicable. It might be that they add something to that effect in the conditions.  She asked if the plan agrees with all of the standards.


Mr. Benish stated that the plan has been reviewed by engineering.


Ms. Higgins stated that if the ten foot setback cannot be achieved, then something has to be worked out.


Mr. Rieley stated that it looks like it has been met.


Ms. Joseph stated that as of this afternoon the right-of-way was sort of a new finding.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   She pointed out that in a conversation this afternoon that Mr. Doherty had said that he had spoken with Jim Kesterson and that the right-of-way was acquired in 2000. She asked if that was correct.


Mr. Doherty apologized about that because that was what he had been told by Jim Kesterson, but when he checked with the church they said that was not the case. 


Ms. Joseph asked if VDOT was telling him one thing and the owner another.


Mr. Doherty stated that was correct.  He pointed out that he found that out about an hour ago and had not had a chance to get back with Jim Kesterson about it.  The more important thing is that the plan is designed to accommodate the right-of-way, and they need to figure out this detail of whether it is going to fly or not.  But, the church says that it has not been and VDOT says that it has.


Mr. Benish stated that they could work that out before Board hears this request to find out what the status is so that it can be shown on the plan.  But, the design that the Commission is looking at contemplates that right-of-way.


Mr. Thomas asked if the entire parking lot would have to be moved south if the right-of-way was not there.


Mr. Doherty stated that if it didn’t, but it does.  He stated that he was told that there is a                                                             100 foot right-of-way on center with Rio Road that was purchased by VDOT.  However, the church says otherwise and he was not sure.  But, he would tend to think that they would know better. Either way the right-of-way needs to be 50 feet from the center of Rio Road, which was what was shown there.  As far as he can tell the edge of the pavement is at least 10 feet and a few inches beyond that.  The plan is designed to accommodate the right-of-way. But, it is just not labeled on the plan showing that.


Mr. Benish stated that with the site plan process that when that adjustment is received with that             detail that he believed that it would still be consistent with the concept in the matter if it was 9 feet 8 inches.  He stated that since they were talking about a small amount that it could be adjusted at the site plan level.


Mr. Rieley stated that it looked like it was ten feet.  He thanked staff for including The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 as the Commission requested. In this case, he did not think that their action tonight could be interpreted as imposing a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person.  He stated that it was a good reminder.      


Mr. Thomas asked if there were any other questions for staff.  There being none, he opened the public hearing and invited the applicant to come forward and speak.


Peter Hartwig, Senior Pastor of Charlottesville First Assembly Church, stated that he was present to answer any questions that the Commission might have.  VDOT did review this plan.  The parking is setback 10 feet.  During a meeting with the County, they had agreed that if VDOT widens the bridge in 2008 that they have given them an agreement that they can use this area to do the work on.  Therefore, they have tried to realize that in the future in 2008 if everything goes smooth that the Meadow Creek Parkway will come in and it will be widened.  He pointed out that they need some fill for this parking lot. Therefore, they would love it if the project was up and running.  They have a given verbal agreement for that.  VDOT did review the 10 foot setback.  The discrepancy was whether or not VDOT purchased anything from the church in 2000.  He pointed out that VDOT has purchased nothing from the church and actually nobody from VDOT has contacted them.  The church has the 50 feet from center line right-of-way factored into this parking lot plus 10 feet.


Mr. Rieley stated that this was done quite often with subdivisions and one would think that it would be the case for special use permits.  When a right-of-way is an issue typically VDOT requests that a dedication of right-of-way be a condition of approval.  He asked if there has ever been an issue about that on this project.


Mr. Doherty stated that issue did not come up. They did discuss the construction easement for the eventual widening of Rio Road.


Mr. Rieley stated that if it was a potential condition for the special use permit that the Commission should know about it before they act on it.  He pointed out that he thought that they have to.  A condition could be crafted that says that the dedication of right-of-way to public use is required if requested by VDOT up to 50 feet from the center line.


Mr. Benish stated that the Commission could advise staff that prior to Board deliberation that the issue be squared away so that a condition could be added.


Mr. Thomas asked if there was any one else in the audience that would like to speak on this application.  There being none, he closed the public hearing to bring the matter back to the Commission for discussion and a possible action.


Ms. Higgins questioned whether this condition would be placed on other special use permit applicants when they come before the Commission and Board.  She felt that was not the case.  It just seems that if a portion of the church’s land is in the VDOT plan that eventually the church would be compensated for that dedication.  If it was a condition of the special use permit would the applicants be compensated for that and how that would be tested against other special use permits. 


Mr. Rieley stated that when he bought the property on which his house sits that the property line went to the middle of the road.  It was a prescriptive easement. But, when that lot was subdivided off the requirement of that subdivision was the dedication to public right-of-way.  He questioned how this would be different from that.


Mr. Benish stated that the legislative act for special use permits and rezonings if there was a defined project in the Comprehensive Plan or public project in the 6-year plan that staff would normally try to seek that as a condition or part of the plan of development.


Ms. Higgins stated that was how they handled it for residential subdivisions, but not necessarily on a proposed right-of-way or an undefined right-of-way.  But, it does affect the transaction.


Mr. Rieley stated that staff said that it was typically to try to acquire the right-of-way as a condition.


Mr. Benish stated that when there is a public project identified in the Comp Plan or other adopted document that they will pursue an amendment to reservation in that area.


Mr. Rieley asked how deep of a strip were they talking about.


Ms. Higgins pointed out that the plat that was attached dated January 16, 1968 shows the property line going to the center line of Rio Road, but she felt that it was probably wider than that now.


Mr. Craddock stated that Rio Road was a narrow two lane road in 1968.


Ms. Higgins stated that since the property was on the outside of the curvature of the road that it might be that it was an off-set right-of-way and an additional 25 feet was coming off. 


Mr. Thomas stated that Rio Road was actually in a different position.  The road is further east from that point.


Ms. Higgins stated that Jim Kesterson could clearly look at that and provide that information.  She stated that it might be that it is on the other side of the road along this strip.


Mr. Thomas stated that he thought that it is because the road was moved about 50 feet towards the church property when they put the new bridge and road in.


Ms. Higgins stated that when they widen the road they would probably go on the other side.


Mr. Thomas stated that the road would probably take land from both sides of the road.  He asked if the Commission needs to craft another condition.


Mr. Rieley stated that he was sure there were other issues.


Ms. Joseph stated that she had some issues on the landscaping. She asked that the Commission talk about whether they consider this as relegated parking.  She acknowledged that this was a church, but noted that this is twenty percent more parking spaces than normally given by the requirements of the Zoning Ordinance.  The applicant is asking for something extra. There are no screening shrubs adjacent to Rio Road. The parking area will be below Rio Road, but they would also be looking at a sea of parking. It might not be that visible, but it will be more visible when they do the improvements along Rio Road.  Since this is a special use permit she wondered if they could ask for some screening to be provided.  The applicant does have about a 6 foot strip between the existing parking and the expanded parking where there could be one more line of trees.  She felt that they would ask that of anyone else since there was a lot more parking than is required by the ordinance and it was a special use permit.


Mr. Rieley supported Ms. Joseph’s suggestion.


Mr. Thomas agreed with Ms. Joseph.  There is also a residential area across the tracks.


Ms. Joseph stated that they were relying on the vegetation in the railroad right-of-way.


Ms. Higgins agreed that some additional canopy or vegetation would be appropriate, but she disagreed that this was more than the ordinance provides for.  The ordinance says that you can go up to 120 percent of the required number. That section was adopted in 2003.  Therefore, the applicant can do that.  She supported the comment that some green could be added into the site plan.  But, creating an island to do that might be fairly difficult because of the requirements of the layout.  If they could craft something to put into the conditions that she would be supportive.


Mr. Rieley asked Ms. Joseph if she was suggesting that essentially the two banks of double loaded parking that are parallel to Rio Road might have a dog bone configuration with shade trees in that area.  He felt that would help a lot.  If the dog bones were 6 feet, which is what the tree lawn requirement is in the proposed ordinance, it would move the back line back 12 feet.  That is just about the same distance between the red line and the parking.  Within the scope of things it is inconsequential, but they would get a tremendous amount of value out of additional trees.


Mr. Thomas pointed out that there were some critical slopes in the rear.


Ms. Higgins stated that if there was a way that they could put trees in without doing that would be better because it was going to affect the grading towards the rear.  Also, by doing that they would be affecting the whole drainage structures.  It would increase the drainage structures in the parking lot because the sheet flow across the parking lot was going to be interrupted.  Then, they would have to collect it at each point that they break it with curbing.  For the values of the trees, it would add substantial expense to the drainage design that really is not necessary.  Maybe there is already a way since there is already a dog bone that parallels the church that does not show any plantings.  She stated that there might be a way to crowd more trees across the front.


Ms. Joseph pointed out that she has seen on site plans before a diamond like structure that is placed in the pavement where they have put trees in so that the water can flow through.  It is a possibility that they can put in different kinds of screening without the Commission designing it for them.


Ms. Higgins stated that they would lose a couple of spaces when they put that 12 feet in.  She stated that there might be a way that they could dedicate some center space in the middle to put some trees right in the center of it in and clump them.


Mr. Rieley stated that he would like to put this in some perspective relative to other requirements in the area. The University design guideline for parking lots requires one shade tree for every seven spaces for parking.  For a lot of this size it would mean twenty additional trees in the parking lot.  He stated that he was not suggesting that they have to meet University standards, but just to note that this configuration now has eight.


Ms. Higgins stated that was because they were only doing one for ten for the new spaces.  The applicant was not going back to the existing spaces.


Mr. Doherty pointed out that there were 12 in the parking lots.  He stated that they were getting rid of part of the parking lot.


Mr. Rieley asked if they were counting those spaces.  He pointed out that the spaces were not shaded.  He stated that staff was not counting these spaces, but they were counting these trees.


Mr. Doherty stated that there were 56 additional spaces.  He pointed out that one-half of the spaces were shaded.


Mr. Rieley stated that the point was that there was a substantial short fall in the planting requirement a part of which is the result of not planting along the road as heavily as they normally would. He felt that Ms. Joseph’s point that there was little reason to back off on that within the parking lot itself is very sensible.


Mr. Thomas asked if there was already a comment about the trees along Rio Road because of the right-of-way being taken.


Mr. Doherty stated that the right-of-way does not appear on the plan.  But, the right-of-way affects their conversations about what they could do as far as screening is concerned.  Also the fact that Rio Road would be expanded and the limits of grading would affect the areas where certain things could be planted up higher.  What they got into a discussion about were certain things like larger evergreens such as magnolias, pine trees or others that could be planted.  But, the size of the tree that they could reasonably afford would not grow tall enough to screen the road for quite a while given the fact that the place where the trees would have to be planted is well below the grade of the road.  It is anywhere from 14 to 6 feet.


Mr. Thomas stated that the line of sight is 14 to 15 feet below the level of Rio Road itself.


Mr. Doherty stated that was correct.


Mr. Craddock pointed out that information was under the relegated parking section.


Ms. Higgins suggested that the applicant look at the design and work out the required screening requirements with staff towards the front to screen the parking.


Mr. Edgerton stated that he would be in favor of more trees even if they were below the sight line.  If they could break up that new expanse, whether with the dog bone configuration or other method, it would be helpful. He stated that he would like to see some sensitivity.


Mr. Morris asked the applicant to come up and address his plans in this.


Pastor Hartwig stated that they have 50 percent more trees than are required.  That was done on purpose because they have a parking lot across the street from the church which was flat paved.  Therefore, they made sure that they had a very architecturally intricate looking parking lot so that it would be attractive from the road.  That was not required, but they did that because the church wants to be a positive asset to the community.  The other problem that the church has with totally screening the parking lot is that they have ladies who will be out there at night getting into their cars.  It was a big concern for the church that if you could not see the parking lot that it would be a safety issue for the women in the church.  He stated that the church gets robbed on a regular basis from the railroad tracks.  Covenant Church and their church have both been broken into on a regular basis.  Although he understands the concern about the trees, there is another issue that they are dealing with. On the plan they put in very attractive islands on purpose, which was very expensive for the church.  Also, the number of trees was increased by 50 percent because they wanted the area to be attractive.  The biggest concern was if they start blocking the view from the road that it leaves the congregation feeling very unsafe.  The parking lot at the church across the street that was built 18 months ago has no green at all planted.  He stated that they took the steps to be as good as possible and still keep the costs within what they could afford.  They tried to make it architecturally inviting for someone driving by. The church needs every last parking space that they can get, which was why they went to the maximum. The church has grown about 300 percent during the last five years.  The church still uses the parking at CATEC.  The dilemma with CATEC is that they only guarantee them 20 spaces and there is a church meeting in CATEC currently.  As that church grows they cannot always be guaranteed more than 20 spaces. They have kept the number of spaces exactly within what is required.  For their church to function property they need every single space that they can get.  He stated that those were their concerns.


Mr. Thomas asked if there were any further questions for the applicant.


Ms. Joseph stated that he kept talking about screening trees like evergreens, but the Commission was talking about deciduous trees or hardwoods.


Pastor Hartwig stated that evergreens were what staff had mentioned.  They were talking about hardwood trees that were indigenous to the site. That is what the church had requested.  Again, their concern was if an evergreen tree is used that as it grows you have to chop up on the bottom so that cars can get up underneath it.  He stated that if the Commission looks at the plan that they have hardwoods in the parking lot as well as along the road.


Mr. Thomas thanked the applicant for his comments.


Ms. Higgins stated that 56 spaces would require ten trees, which was six more than was required. 


Mr. Thomas asked if the Commission was satisfied with the plan.


Mr. Rieley stated that some additional trees were needed.  If they add four on the first rank and two on the second one that could be done with a minimal amount of impact on the parking and provide a good deal of mitigation for screening along Rio Road.  It seems that would be a reasonable trade off.  The additional six trees was something that needs to be worked out with staff.


Ms. Higgins moved for approval of SP-2004-00045, Charlottesville First Assembly, subject to the two conditions as recommended in the staff report and a third condition that six additional shade trees be incorporated into the site and administratively reviewed by staff.


Mr. Rieley asked if she would accept a friendly refinement that those six trees be in the area shown in the trapezoidal part of the new parking lot area.


Ms. Higgins suggested that the six trees be placed in the front half of the new parking area.


Ms. Joseph asked if they need to say anything about the dedication of the right-of-way or is that just understood.


Ms. Higgins recommended that staff work that issue out before the request goes to the Board.  She stated that was a simple condition and might not be necessary.  She suggested that it be incorporated between now and the time that the request goes to the Board. 


Mr. Rieley stated that the motion is that staff will require that the dedication of the right-of-way be included as a requirement if the plan has not already been acquired by VDOT as a condition.  He asked Mr. Benish if that was what he was talking about when he said that normally it would be done that way by trying to get a dedication.


Mr. Benish stated that what they normally pursue is a dedication, but at a minimum they try to achieve a reservation.  He stated that when they look at a full reservation that it depends on the complexity of the project.  If they are willing to accept the reservation, then they will require the dedication. They always try to pursue a dedication.  They are starting with this issue the day that they began reviewing it.  He thought that their directive was to try to determine the status of the right-of-way.


Mr. Rieley stated that was not consistent with what he was saying.  He stated that he just wanted to make sure that they were clear on this issue before they voted on this.  He felt that this was a special use permit requirement for a huge additional amount of parking. It seems that would be a perfectly reasonable situation to require the dedication of right-of-way where they know there is a project and they have a line on a map. He noted that if that was in the motion that he would vote in favor of it. He felt that the condition should be that there is dedication of right-of-way if it has not been acquired and that staff will investigate where it stands between now and the Board meeting.


Ms. Higgins stated that the reason that she expressed hesitancy is that the difference between reservation and dedication is significant. At reservation when VDOT does the project if there is any acquisition they will move along the front and the reservation is called. Then VDOT provides a plat consistent with their design, which could affect the width of the right-of-way, and then they process it.  If you require a dedication at the time this is done, it means that the applicant has to basically come up with a plat at the applicant’s expense and dedicate it.  She pointed out that it could be that VDOT comes along at a later date and it moves 2 feet.  It has happened often because there isn’t a design on the road. So reservation predicts all rights for VDOT to take it at no cost and they just come along and process it in line with other properties.  She felt that it was a fair and reasonable thing to call it reservation versus dedication.  If the Board wants to upgrade it to dedication she would not disagree with it, but that is why. They would get the right-of-way, but it would be obtained consistent with the time frame that it is needed and it is more exact.


Mr. Rieley asked if the reservation guarantees that the public gets the land that it needs at no cost without a line on the map.


Ms. Higgins stated that it says upon demand.


Mr. Benish stated that if they don’t know the exact location they usually ask for a reservation with dedication on the demand of the County.  He stated that there was a line that shows the reservation.  He felt that the intent was to achieve dedication of the right-of-way.


Ms. Higgins amended her motion to include a condition that the applicants show on the plan the reservation of VDOT right-of-way as determined by staff for future dedication on demand by the County.


Mr. Rieley agreed with the condition.


Mr. Craddock seconded the amended motion.


The motion carried by a vote of (7:0) 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 concept plan entitled “Charlottesville First Assembly Minor Amendment to Valid Special Use Permit” prepared by Terra Partners, LLC and dated July 19, 2004;
  2. Day care use shall be prohibited unless approved through a special use permit amendment.
  3. Six additional shade trees should be incorporated into the site in the front half of the new parking lot and to be administratively reviewed by staff.
  4. The applicant should show on the plan the reservation of VDOT right-of-way as determined by staff for future dedication on demand by the County. 


Mr. Craddock seconded the motion.


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


Mr. Thomas stated that the motion carried for SP-2004-00045, Charlottesville First Assembly, which will be heard by the Board of Supervisors on November 10.


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