The McLean Islamic Center (MIC) will be returning to the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) on Nov. 14 in an effort to overturn earlier restrictions on worship hours and attendance.
The MIC, the only Islamic center in the Tysons/McLean area, was granted a special permit in 2015 to operate as a house of worship at 8800 Jarrett Valley Dr.
But the authorization also came with restrictions to mitigate the MIC’s impact on the surrounding neighborhood. The MIC was prohibited from having more than ten worshipers at its pre-dawn prayer service and no group worship between 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Since then, the facility and the roads surrounding it have grown. The MIC has expanded the parking lot from 52 to 92 spaces to facilitate a prayer hall with a 200 person capacity. Route 7 has been widened and its turn lanes lengthened.
Now the MIC is hoping the BZA will amend the conditions to allow 24-hour operation of the facility and lift the restriction on parking.
“[The restrictions] are untenable,” said Dr. Sultan Chaudhry, president of the MIC Board of Directors. “We’re not allowed to have more than ten people for morning prayer service. But sometimes 20 or 25 come… we’ve never had more than 40, but you don’t RSVP for the prayer.”
Chaudhry said the number of attendees to morning prayer spikes during holidays or when there’s a death in the community.
“At the end of the day, we have 92 spots,” said Chaudhry. “So telling the eleventh person they can’t park there when we have 92 spaces, is hard.”
But a staff report from Sept. 26 recommended denial of the application pending further documentation on the site’s impact on the surrounding community. According to the staff report:
“Staff’s review determined that the applicant’s request could negatively impact the surrounding neighborhood in terms of noise and light from the parking area, since the possibility of groups arriving at and leaving the Center at all hours of the day could create incidental noise (such as from car alarms, car locking systems, or conversations held outside).”
A noise study, prepared by MIC, is under review by county staff.
The report also noted that concerns had been raised about access to the property from the congested Jarrett Valley Drive/Leesburg Pike intersection. Fairfax County Department of Transportation reviewed the project and said the overall impact on the intersection would be minimal, while the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) analysis is pending.
The Carrington Home Owners Association had been vocal about the concerns for the increased traffic and light pollution issues at the original MIC approval in 2015. The association could not be reached for comment, but concerns about traffic at the site have been an ongoing issue.
Earlier this year, an anonymous complaint was made to the county that there were more than 10 vehicles in the parking lot during a morning prayer service. An investigation by the County found the MIC in violation, after which the MIC suspended its morning prayer service.
But Chaudhry said that neighbors will have to recognize that the surrounding area is growing. Chaudhry pointed to a VDOT study in 2015 that showed that there as an average of 61,000 cars traveling on Route 7 every day even before the road was expanded.
“This is Tysons,” said Chaudhry. “In the last four years, the four tallest buildings [in the region] have been built.”
Recently, there was a death in the MIC community. Chaudhry said when the MIC was helping to plan a prayer service for the family, he was also working to keep the number of mourners low.
“I had to contact the family and tell them not to publicize it on our listserv for fear that we might have more than 80 vehicles show up,” said Chaudhry. “We had a death and our top concern was traffic.”
Photo via Facebook