- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Heritage Fellowship United Church of Christ in Reston has had plans for a long time to expand from a small building to a much larger structure with far more room for services. However, after nearly three years, its neighbors say they are beginning to wonder whether the project will be completed and want more communication from church officials.

“The fence went up this spring, as did the signs,” said Charlie Moses, a resident of the Courts at Fox Mill, one of two subdivisions adjacent to the Heritage Fellowship lot. “They did the actual surveying probably about a month ago, which is when the red tape went up. We assume this is all part of their process.”

Mr. Moses lives in one of the two subdivisions adjacent to the Heritage Fellowship lot. The other is Stratton Woods. He served as president of the homeowners association for the Courts at Fox Mill from May 2006 to May 2009.

He said he is concerned that the church may not have enough money to complete the project because of the economic downturn. “From everything we’ve been able to piece together, we think that they honestly don’t have the money to do this,” he said.

A Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals Weekly Agenda says the special permit issued to Heritage Fellowship was amended on Oct. 31, 2006. The Fairfax County zoning ordinance requires that “whenever a special permit is approved … construction authorized shall be commenced … within thirty (30) months from the approval date.”

Heritage Fellowship declined to comment for this report.

The home of Donna Turner, current president of the homeowners association for the Courts at Fox Mill, borders the northeast corner of the Heritage Fellowship lot. She said it “is a great thing” to have the church as a neighbor but that the expansion’s “size and scope is out of whack for this area.”

Mrs. Turner and her husband were first made aware of the project nearly four years ago when they and the other homeowners received a letter from the pastor, the Rev. Norman A. Tate.

The letter, dated Dec. 22, 2005, said, “We … have proudly supported residential growth around us. … As result, we too must expand.” Mr. Tate wrote that though he is “saddened at the thought of replacing our ‘church in the woods,’ we are equally pleased by the opportunity for a new building in God’s service.”

According to the Heritage Fellowship Web site, the church as it stands today was completed in 1998. It says, however, that the building has not been able to accommodate all of its services for several years. Beginning in 1995, it experienced “immense growth in the membership of the church. When three services could not accommodate the growth, worship services were moved to South Lakes High School in Reston starting in 2001 and, subsequently to Herndon High School in 2005.”

Original church construction included a two-story parking garage in the back of the lot, adjacent to Mrs. Turners home. This was a contentious issue between the residents of the Courts at Fox Mill and the church. Fairfax County denied the request for the parking garage.

The homeowners and church leaders also had other issues to resolve. “They wanted over 50,000 square feet,” Mrs. Turner said. “We got them down to 40-something. We compromised. They compromised. It was a pretty reasonable outcome, really.”

Mr. Moses agreed that the two groups have managed to work well together in a number of areas and pointed out that the Courts at Fox Mill gave permission for the church to tap into its water line.

“That actually saved them a lot of money,” he said. “If we hadn’t done that, they were going to have to run another water line because the fire code said they had to have two water sources.”

The church, Mr. Moses said, agreed to pay for the legal fees associated with the water connection.

The Heritage Fellowship Web site displays renderings of the structure and a three-phase plan but no timetable.

“We don’t know anything about what’s going on with the church, but we are very curious,” Mrs. Turner said, “and we have had many neighbors contact the homeowners association to find out what’s going on.”

• Meredith C. Hulley is a writer attending the University of Maryland.

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