Plans to move the St. Pope Cyril Coptic Orthodox Church congregation from a shared space in Chantilly to a new building on Old Carolina Road in Aldie have faced opposition from some people in and around the village.
The congregation originally proposed a 36,000-square-foot building with seating for 600. Since then, the application has been whittled down to 22,000 square feet with a maximum height of 35 feet, excluding crosses on top of the building, and seating for 450. During a July 11 Board of Supervisors public hearing, the applicant agreed to reduce that further to 19,000 square feet, almost 50 percent smaller than the first application. It would also sit about 635 feet back from the road, mostly screened by trees.
Its opponents argue it is still too large for the area, comparing it to the village’s Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, which shares a property line with the Coptic church’s land. That building is approved for up to 17,000 square feet, but so far has only grown to just less than 5,400. St. Pope Cyril Coptic Orthodox Church would be the largest structure in Aldie.
That church is also approved for other activities, like a weekly child care. After concerns from the community about traffic, the Coptic church has agreed not to do many things common to churches, such as a daycare or food bank. County planners also said the church has gone “above and beyond” on green infrastructure, including putting everything outside the construction zone on the 10-acre property into conservation easement.
Walsh Colucci Lubely & Walsh attorney Andrew Painter said the congregation “just wants to find a peaceful place to worship.”
“It’s excited to be in Loudoun County,” Painter said. “They could have gone anywhere else, but they chose to be here, and I think they’ve gone above and beyond what could be expected.”
“This is really not an issue of faith group or their right to build and worship,” said Douglas Smith of Aldie. “This is more about the scale of the building and the impact it has on the neighborhood.”
Several of the church’s congregants said they live in Aldie, and would like to bring the church to its own space.
“It’s a place where you can find peace and comfort and make new friends and family,” said Murna Hadib.
Molar Lisko said that the church has been a place he can turn to in his teenage years to “practice religious beliefs and grow spiritually and morally.”
“On behalf of 30 youth as well as the next generation of youth to come, I am asking for you to approve of us to have a place where we can run to when we feel we are not in the best stage of our life,” Lisko said.
The church also got support from James Riggs, who said he is on the vestry committee of the church where the Coptic church is sharing space. St. Pope Cyril Coptic Orthodox Church has been sharing space with an Antiochian Orthodox church, St. Raphael of Brooklyn Orthodox Christian Church.
Riggs said while the church is “blessed to have what we have, it is by no means adequate,” and compared the Coptic church’s community to pilgrims coming to America in 1620 to “worship according to their conscience.”
“In no small way are the Copts here the heirs to that sort of desire, because in their homeland they are subject to persecution,” Riggs said.
Supervisors spoke positively about the application.
“Not all applicants, by the way, are as willing as you all have been to work with us, and that says a lot about you all and your character,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run).
Supervisors voted 8-0-1 to send the application to their meeting July 19 for a vote.
This article was updated Tuesday, July 17 with a correction about the original proposed size of the building.