In Sterling, Davis Church Deal Erodes

A crumbling, centenarian church at the busy intersection of West Church Road and Davis Drive in Sterling is in its final days.

Repeated attempts to stop a developer’s plans to build a mini-warehouse self-storage facility on the property—including an 11th-hour appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals claiming the developer did not give enough notice of a public hearing—have fallen flat. A deal that would have preserved the church’s façade and placed it in a pocket park on the corner of the property also has fallen through.

The church at the corner of West Church Road and Davis Drive near the Guilford neighborhood of Sterling. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
The church at the corner of West Church Road and Davis Drive near the Guilford neighborhood of Sterling.
(Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

Instead, the developer, The Young Group, has said there will be benches, pavers, plantings, and an art installation in the pocket park, with a historical plaque and repurposed organ pipes. According to the developer, the county staff classified the façade as a structure, meaning the mini warehouse would have been reduced in size to meet lot coverage requirements. Instead of $5,000 in seed money for the park, The Young Group says it will contribute $25,000 to whichever group wants to take over maintenance of the park.

“We’re trying to be generous,” said Young Group president Robert Young. “In my community, in Falls Church, if I told folks that I was going to give them a pocket park with a little bit of art on it, they’d go nuts and say ‘you’re the most wonderful guy in the whole damn world.’”

Disassembling, moving, reassembling, and renovating the entire church, he said, would be enormously expensive, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The whole thing is just ridiculous and impossible,” Young said. “For a building that’s been declared non-historic, for a building that’s in very, very bad physical condition—for a building where all the architecturally important things were taken away in the ’70s—what’s left?”

He also said an unannounced visit by some of the project’s opponents to the property owner’s home in Fairfax was unwelcome.

“I don’t understand, honestly, where these people are coming from,” Young said. “As far as I’m concerned, they didn’t deal in a straightforward way with us. They were pretending to negotiate while at the same time trying all kinds of tactics behind our back to kill the project.”

Debate over who should pay to save the church is at the heart of the argument. While Young said opponents to the self-storage facility haven’t raised any money to save the church, some of those same opponents say they were never given a chance.

Aaron Gilman is the chairman of the Sterling Foundation, which was the chief organization considered to take over maintenance of the pocket park. Gilman also serves as the Sterling representative on the comprehensive plan stakeholder steering committee. He said he’s only known about the project for six months, which he said isn’t enough time to fundraise.

“I honestly don’t know that they were ever going to do something, because we kept asking, what’s your budget for teardown, and they never had a budget,” Gilman said. “If you’re two months away, you’d think you’d have that number down pat.”

The Sterling Foundation rejected a contract from The Young Group to maintain the facility, Gilman said, because it made The Sterling Group responsible for the park for 25 years without indemnity.

“It wasn’t something I can accept on behalf of The Sterling Foundation,” Gilman said.

Whether the church is a Sterling historical landmark or a long-neglected run-down building, it will soon be gone.

“We gave it a shot,” Gilman said. “I think they’re going to plow it. It’s too bad, but that’s just the way the developer wants it, and he has the right to do what he should be able to do with his property. He did go through the right avenues, he did get the right approvals, it just hurts to see Sterling history getting torn down for a five story warehouse.”

rgreene@loudounnow.com
@RenssGreene

3 thoughts on “In Sterling, Davis Church Deal Erodes

  • 2016-07-28 at 11:37 am
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    I fine this comment interesting: “The whole thing is just ridiculous and impossible,” Young said. “For a building that’s been declared non-historic, for a building that’s in very, very bad physical condition—for a building where all the architecturally important things were taken away in the ’70s—what’s left?”

    I guess Mr. Young isn’t very familiar with the history of this church because I was married in in in July of 1982 and it was an active church for at least another year or so after that. If he actually leaves Falls Church and travels to this area I think he will see we need another storage facility about as much as we need another server farm.

  • 2016-08-01 at 10:35 pm
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    At what point does a storage facility become a “mini-warehouse”. This thing is 89,000 square feet – perhaps 30 times as large as the church. “Mini”, really?

    And let’s get this straight: this church is not “crumbling”. I know; I was in the church just last week. They haven’t bothered to replace, paint or glaze broken windows, but – amazingly – there is no rotten wood. The floors are sturdy and solid, wall-to-wall. The structure is solid and stable and has been for well over 100 years. Yes, the massive poison ivy plant growing in the front of the church is inching into the interior; that can be fixed in an hour. The word “crumbling” reveals clearly that LoudounNow is being led by the developer. Shame! (if not scandal)

    Ignoring a building like this is illegal in most localities; it’s “Demolition by Neglect”. We in Sterling have been horrified at the decades of callous disregard. The County owes no favor here. Where were the citations?

    By the way, the reason the Sterling Foundation can’t maintain the Pocket Park is because they are a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization and are legally barred from maintaining private property.
    In a LoudounNow article (http://loudounnow.com/2016/01/21/planning-commission-endorses-davis-church-deal/) Mr. Young told the Loudoun County Planning Commission that he would “cut the baby literally in half” and move the half-church to the back of the lot. Now that plan “also has fallen through” with no explanation other than “the […] warehouse would have been reduced in size.” So? Can’t they reduce the 89,000 square foot structure by 1500 square feet? That’s less than 2 percent. More importantly, why isn’t Mr. Young being held to his promise? Has the Supervisor simply excused him? Is that even legal? This promise was also made to our citizens’ group (http://loudounnow.com/2016/01/04/developer-proposes-compromise-for-sterlings-davis-church/.) We haven’t forgotten.

    When Mr. Young made this promise, he must have budgeted tens of thousands of dollars for the move. We reasonably ask that he put that money toward saving the church; that might be seen as generous. The Pocket Park as now envisioned preserves nothing of Old Sterling.

    The “heart of the argument”, then, is that the developer needs to make a significant sacrifice for the preservation of Old Sterling as he promised the citizens and the Planning Commission in January.

  • 2016-10-09 at 9:50 am
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    The original Methodist Church was built in approximately 1875. The now standing Methodist Church (circa 1897) was deconsecrated October 30, 1983.

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