The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been granted permission to continue work on expanding the parking lot at its Poplar Grove Drive facility.
The decision to re-approve the church’s expired permit through July was given by the Design Review Board during their Tuesday meeting. The permit had originally been granted by DRB in 2014, with work to be completed by February 2016.
Both then and now, residents of neighboring Birchfield Woods Cluster have expressed their displeasure with the project, with concerns including potential decreases of property value, impact to wildlife, and the loss of a “buffer zone” between the church and the community. DRB members heard their statements during Tuesday’s meeting.
“We did go through all of those topics originally, and it’s always a balance when you’re trying to make decisions about this,” said DRB chair John Kauppila. “On any application, there’s always some challenges that we have to work through and try to find compromise, and it’s tough.”
The church had originally applied to add 51 spaces to the property. During the approval process in 2014, that number was whittled down to 39. The number of trees to be removed was also changed, and the church is being required to plant replacement trees and shrubs. Church representatives said a landscape bond is being held by Fairfax County, and it will not be released until an inspection of that work has been completed.
The project was delayed during the Fairfax County permitting process, church representatives said, which resulted in the permit expiring. Birchfield Woods residents also said they would like to see the church punished for conducting work on the project in December 2016, after the original permit had expired. That work was halted after residents filed a complaint with RA staff.
Nick Georgas, DRB’s landscape architect member, said the delay was punishment in itself.
“I think their penalty is having to demobilize the site for a significant time, at cost to the developer and the church,” he said. “I think they’ve been penalized through that effort [for] lack of paying attention to the permits.”
Chip Boyd, Birchfield Woods Cluster president, remains concerned that a traffic study has not been completed on the entrance to the community and church — a single entrance from Lake Newport Road.
“We have a lot of issues with cars not following traffic patterns there,” he said. “If we’re adding 39 more cars that are going to be involved in that situation, I didn’t see as part of this a traffic review study.”
Any such study would be under the purview of Fairfax County, Kauppila said.