A church at the corner of Davis Drive and West Church Road in Sterling, which became a landmark for some area residents who saw it as emblematic of old Sterling and of destructive redevelopment, came down last week.
Between Feb. 7 and Feb. 8, heavy machinery tore down and carried off the remains of Davis Church. The Gothic Revival building went up in the 1870s and has been vacant since the congregation left more than 30 years ago. Because of structure updates made over the years, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources found the church ineligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, and supporters of a developer’s plans to raze the building and put up a self-storage facility said it had been neglected too long.
The Young Group faced fierce resistance to its development plans, including two challenges at the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Plans preserve parts of the church by creating a pocket park fell apart over time. At first, the Young Group proposed to save the building’s façade, but the county zoning regulators determined the façade would be a structure and would require the developer to reduce the size of the self-storage unit to satisfy with square footage limits.
The Young Group proposed instead a pocket park with benches, pavers, landscaping, and an art installation made of reclaimed organ pipes. The developer would then hand off maintenance of the pocket park to a community organization, donating $25,000 in seed money to whatever organization took over the park.
That plan, too, was halted by the zoning department, which in October sent the developer a letter pointing out that private and public parks are not permitted in the property’s commercial zoning designation. The developer’s land design consultant decided the park would be identified on plans as an “outdoor employee space.”
The county staff also insisted the developer take ownership of a path connecting the space to a nearby sidewalk, and initially resisted allowing the developer to connect to the public sidewalk.
“Zoning does not want the pocket park connected by public sidewalk—essentially inviting the public to use this pocket park,” wrote Loudoun County project engineer Neelam Henderson in correspondence between the county and developer.
But despite these hurdles, Young Group president Robert Young said there will be something there to mark the church.
“We’re going to do it anyway,” Young said.
Young said he will now build the outdoor employee space—with the same organ pipes, benches, pavers, and landscaping—maintain the space, and accept liability for it. His company will also donate $25,000 to a neighborhood cause designated by Sterling Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D).
“It’s an unusual situation, and I don’t get it,” Young said. He said he plans to have work on the parcel done in a year.