Columbia Baptist Church wants to expand in the City of Falls Church — but residents and Planning Commissioners have concerns about parking in the area.
At a Falls Church Planning Commission meeting on last Tuesday, Sept. 3, residents and commissioners discussed how parking expansion might affect not only the already-strained street parking situation but also how it might encroach on neighboring historic buildings.
In a zoning proposal application, the church requested two waivers concerning parking. They proposed to expand into a required 10-foot easement of a historic property near the back of the church, which would circumvent the city ordinances for shared parking. The church claims they have agreements with local property owners and that their services often take place during off-hours.
Along with growing membership, Brett Flanders, the executive director of the church, said the plan for extra parking would benefit its child development center. The on-site parking expansion would make it safer for parents to pick up their children and allow staff members to avoid street parking, he added.
Reducing the easement by 25% would provide the church with room for 15-25 more on-site parking spots, Planning Commission Chair Russell Wodiska said.
During the discussion, several commissioners including Melissa Teates were not convinced by the statements.
“I think the integrity of the historic houses are more important than the parking,” she said.
Teates said that she is familiar with the church and took the time to observe daycare pick up one day, finding that many parents like to park on the street anyway — saving them time in the long run.
“I just think regardless of the use, putting the parking lot so close to the historic house seems to go against the spirit and the letter of the ordinance put in place to protect historic properties,” Planning Commission Vice-Chair Andrew Rankin said, adding that he doesn’t see parking as a high priority.
Community member Keith Thurston also spoke up at during public comment and addressed the Planning Commission about his concerns, agreeing that the integrity of the historical protection ordinance is more important than expansion of church parking.
Besides parking, commissioners also discussed issues with the height ordinance, including whether or not the cross on top of the chapel would violate city code.
Though the commissioners did not settle on a decision, they prepared a list of suggestions for Columbia Baptist to consider and allowed them to revise the proposed plans.
If the church stays on schedule with their adjustments, the Planning Commission will vote on the proposition in October.
Map via the City of Falls Church Planning Commission