The Loudoun County Planning Commission this week gave its blessing to The Young Group’s deal with the Sterling Foundation to save part of Davis Church.
“What we are proposing is to move the church, cut the baby literally in half, because it is impossible to fit the entire structure on the site and stay within the setback requirements,” explained Robert Young, president of The Young Group that plans to build a self-storage center on the property at the corner of West Church Road and Davis Drive. He said the plan would preserve the recognizable architectural elements of the church, including the belltower.
“We’ve worked with the supervisor [Koran Saines (D-Sterling)], we’ve worked hard with the community, and we believe we’ve arrived at an excellent solution,” Young said.
Most of the commissioners agreed and lauded Young for “bending over backwards” to work with area residents.
Under the plan, the front half of the church would move toward the intersection, creating what Young called a “pocket park” with a covered picnic area separated from the storage facility by landscaping. An easement for the park area would be given to the county and the Sterling Foundation would maintain the property, with help from $5,000 in seed money from The Young Group.
The commission in fact did not approve the compromise specifically—that deal will be worked out between The Young Group and the Sterling Foundation. However, the alternate plan was necessary to move the application forward after the panel had delayed action in the face of outcry from area residents.
Sterling Foundation Chairman Aaron Gilman said he has not seen a contract. Commissioners, however, expressed faith that Young will live up to his promises.
“I think we can trust this applicant,” said Commissioner Ad Barnes (Leesburg). “I am sure that he will do the right thing.”
The commission voted 7-2 to recommend approval, with Commissioners Eugene Scheel (Catoctin) and Charlie Douglas (Blue Ridge) opposed. Some commissioners said the push to preserve the church building was much ado about nothing; Scheel, a historian, has said all along that the deal does not go far enough.
“It is so decrepit, it is barely in a position today to be called a building,” Douglas said. “Don’t go inside there, by the way, unless you’ve got tall boots on and your insurance is all paid up.”
“It’s a sad state of affairs when we as a community look at someone else’s property and covet it, covet something on it when we don’t have a really good, compelling reason to do so,” said Commissioner Kathy Blackburn (Algonkian), pointing out that the building was refused registry on the National Historic Register. The building has been modernized in parts and many of its artifacts removed when the congregation left.
“I think the retention of the 1870s Gothic Revival church, the oldest one in the area, possibly the oldest in eastern Loudoun that has not been disfigured greatly, is more important than the current development,” Scheel said.
Young, for his part, promised to honor the spirit of what is, at this point, a gentlemen’s agreement.
“I just want to assure each and every one of you, for the record, that what you see depicted will happen,” Young said. “We don’t really much care what the legal documents say. We just want to be assured that it’s going to be maintained, and beyond that, I can assure you it’s going to happen.”
The Board of Zoning Appeals will make the final decision to approve or deny the application.