Staff Contact:                                                             Scott Clark

Planning Commission:                                                           September 13, 2005

Board of Supervisors:                                                            October 5, 2005


SP 2005-00016 Hope Builders International


Applicant's Proposal: The applicants propose to amend a special use permit in order to continue a church and religious retreat center, and operate the business office for a missionary organization. The amendment would remove a requirement that the facilities be operated only by the original owners.


Petition: Request for amendment of a special use permit for a church and private school, to remove a condition prohibiting transfer of the permitted use to a new operator and to make possible expansion of office space within the use, in accordance with Section 10.2.2(5) and 10.2.2(35) of the Zoning Ordinance which allows for private schools and churches respectively. The property, described as Tax Map 70 Parcel 22, contains 13.473 acres and is zoned RA, Rural Areas.  The proposal is located at 7444 Plank Road (Route 692), 0.65 miles east of its intersection with Ortman Road (Route 691) in the White Hall Magisterial District. The Comprehensive Plan designates this property as Rural Area 3.


Character of the Area: The surroundings are largely rural, with farms, forests, and some large residential parcels. The property includes the historic Oak Leigh house.


Planning and Zoning History: On December 20, 1989, the Board of Supervisors approved a special use permit (SP 89-96, Christian Retreats) for a church and a private school on this site. (The property was already used by Christian Retreats to host retreats, and by Oakleigh Christian Fellowship as a church meeting place.) The school was never constructed, and that use has expired. The church continued to operate, hosting both church services and large retreats for other churches and religious organizations. One condition of approval for the church specified that the special use permit was issued only to the original applicants and was not transferable. The applicants will be the new owners of the property, but already have their office in place on the site.


Comprehensive Plan: The Comprehensive Plan designates this property as Rural Area.


Recommendation: Staff recommends approval of SP 2005-00016 with conditions.


STAFF COMMENT (Special Use Permit)


According to an e-mail received June 15, 2005 (Attachment B), Hope Builders Inc. intends to use the site for:


  1. Weekly church meetings (20 to 100 people)
  2. One weekend seminar per month (up to 100 people, with up to 20 housed on-site overnight)
  3. One annual training session of six to eight weeks, with up to 30 trainees housed on-site
  4. Administrative office for the organization
  5. Residence on site (currently three people live in the house)


Staff has considered these activities as part of the function of a religious organization. The Religious Land Uses and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 requires that:


No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that

imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or institution – (A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.


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


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,


Large gatherings in rural areas, located near farms and residences, raise concerns about nuisance impacts on neighboring properties. Staff has recommended limits to the frequency, timing, and scale of events that accommodate the applicants’ planned activities but that will reduce their impacts on the surrounding properties. The limits recommended in the conditions of approval are consistent with the applicants’ proposed anticipated level of activity on the site.


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


Although a retreat center is not a typical rural use, this use is similar to that carried out by the original owners. Limiting the scale of the use will minimize the impacts on the character of the district.


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


·         Sec. 1.4.:  To protect against destruction of or encroachment upon historic areas;

·         Sec. 10.1: Conservation of natural, scenic, and historic resources. (Amended 11-8-89)


The meeting area, office, and residential rooms for the use are located in the historic Oak Leigh/Port-a-Ferry house. Department of Historic Resources information states that the house was built between 1900 and 1910. It was originally a large Georgian Revival frame structure, but now has a two-story Colonial-style central block. The front of the house includes a veranda that is over 100 feet long (although one end of this has been enclosed). According to K. Edward Lay, the house was once the home of Countess Judith Gyurky. Further research shows that Gyurky was a Hungarian who escaped from Hungary on foot in World War II, along with villagers and her horses, and came to Virginia, where she helped create a breeding program for Hungarian horses.


The house is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but is eligible for consideration.


Use of the structure helps to ensure that it is maintained. Staff has proposed a condition preventing the expansion of the footprint of the house, which should prevent inappropriate expansions and major changes to the historic house, as well as increases of capacity for the use.


with the uses permitted by right in the district,


Churches are an expected element of the rural landscape.


with additional regulations provided in Section 5.0 of this ordinance,


There are no additional regulations for churches in Section 5.


and with the public health, safety and general welfare.


VDOT has stated that the entrances can be made acceptable with modifications to signage and to the existing sight distance. In order to give the applicants flexibility, staff has recommended a condition that does not mandate a specific approach to meeting VDOT’s requirements. The current entrance arrangement (one-way in, one-way out) would require a sight-distance easement on a neighboring property (Tax Map 70, Parcel 39B1) to provide sufficient sight distance for the exit. The owners of that property have not yet indicated that they are willing to grant that easement. The applicants will need to either obtain the easement, or find another entrance/exit arrangement that will satisfy VDOT’s requirements. There appear to be other on-site options by which the applicants could create an entrance acceptable to VDOT.


The proposed increases in people residing on the site suggest that water supply and sewage disposal will be an issue. In order to avoid any health problems, staff is recommending a condition that would require the applicants to secure Health Department approval of wells and septic systems on the site. Written comments from Health Department staff are pending.





The proposed amendment would remove the restriction on ownership imposed by the original special use permit, and would allow a similar operation to continue under new ownership. The conditions recommended below were based on the applicants’ description of the past use and of the size and character of the Hope Builders operation, as described in an e-mail from the applicants dated June 15, 2005 (Attachment B). Staff reviewed these voluntary restrictions and is of the opinion that these restrictions will help to mitigate impacts on the surrounding Rural Areas.


Note: The last day for staff to accept new information on this application was August 9, 2005. On August 23, staff sent a set of proposed conditions to the applicants, for their information and to verify that the conditions matched the original proposal. On August 24, staff received an e-mail response (Attachment C) to a list of proposed conditions that inquired about several possible increases in the permitted level of use on property. Staff did not have sufficient time to review this new proposal in order for this application to stay on schedule for the September 13th hearing date. The applicants did not wish to defer the hearing date for staff to review the new request.




Staff recommends approval of SP 2005-00016 with the following conditions:


1)      Health Department approval of well(s) and septic system(s) for all proposed church, conference, residential, and office uses;

2)      Fire and Rescue Department approval of the structure for all proposed church, conference, residential, and office uses;

3)      Building official approval of the structure for all proposed church, conference, residential, and office uses;

4)      Virginia Department of Transportation approval of entrance and exit;

5)      The applicants shall present evidence of the approvals required in conditions 1 through 4 and obtain a zoning clearance for the use within 6 months of the approval of this permit.

6)      Seating capacity in any area of assembly shall not exceed 100 persons;

7)      Conferences or retreats, each limited in duration to no more than three days, may occur up to twelve times per calendar year. Attendance shall not exceed 100 persons;

8)      Once per calendar year, a missionary training program may be held on the site, for a single continuous time period not to exceed 8 weeks.

9)      No more than 30 persons attending conferences, retreats, or missionary training shall reside on the property at any one time.

10)   No outdoor amplified sound systems shall be used on the property.

11)   Outdoor group activities (meetings, services, recreational activities, and other similar events and activities) shall not occur between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m,

12)   The footprint of the existing Oak Leigh house shall not be expanded, and no other structures shall be used or constructed for this use, without amendment of this permit.





A.     Location Map

B.     E-mail from applicants dated June 15, 2005 describing proposed use

C.     E-mail from applicants dated August 24, 2005, including changes to proposal

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