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A Newport News church’s long-running struggle to relocate to a 40.2-acre tract in Grove will come to a head today as the James City County Board of Supervisors will consider whether to clear the way for the project by approving a land rezoning.
Peninsula Pentecostals has been trying to move its church from Newport News to the land in Grove since 2013.
That land, known as the Kirby Tract, is zoned for industrial use, so the church has applied to have it rezoned to mixed use to clear the way for a 130,000-square-foot church building, a daycare center capable of enrolling up to 150 children, a building for church-related activities and a future commercial area that would feature a gas station.
The application to rezone the land — located at 8930, 8940 and 8950 Pocahontas Trail — went before the county’s planning commission in March. The planners voted 4-3 to recommend the supervisors reject the application after hearing lengthy testimony from senior church officials and more than a dozen congregants.
The planners opposed to the project rejected it for several reasons, including the proximity of the proposed gas station to the Skiffes Creek Reservoir, a belief the application lacked enough details to proceed and the need to preserve the county’s limited industrial land.
The county has little in the way of developable industrial land, with 2,467 acres left. Users of industrial land tend to pay more in taxes than they consume in services from the county and can help offset the cost of residential development, which typically takes more than it contributes to the county’s coffers.
But for the church, the land offers the opportunity to build a larger building for the burgeoning congregation. The church has outgrown its current location in Newport News.
Several congregants spoke at the March planning commission meeting and said they had experienced a range of positive life changes since they began worshipping at the Peninsula Pentecostals and the church would be a valuable addition to Grove.
When the church began work to move to Grove in 2013, the county’s zoning ordinance allowed for houses of worship to be built in industrially-zoned land.
County staff maintains the addition of the houses of worship to the ordinance in January 2012 was a mistake. The supervisors changed the ordinance to remove houses of worship as acceptable uses in August 2013 on a 3-2 vote.
The board that voted to make that change featured current supervisors Jim Kennedy (Stonehouse), Mary Jones (Berkeley) and John McGlennon (Roberts). Kennedy and Jones represented the no votes. Jones said she did not approve of how the county handled the church’s application once it realized its mistake with the ordinance, while Kennedy said he would be supportive of rezoning the land to clear the way for the church.
McGlennon said at that meeting he was not sure if he would support a rezoning application but he would remain open to considering it.
In June 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice began an investigation to determine if the county violated the church’s civil rights. A spokesman for DOJ has not returned a request for comment, however Assistant County Administrator Adam Kinsman said in an email the DOJ has indicated the county will not hear back from the agency until the rezoning case has been resolved.
Staff members from the James City County Planning Division who have analyzed the proposal to build the church and the other buildings oppose the plan.
The planners cited the church’s proposed location on industrially zoned land in the county’s Enterprise Zone — a zone set to expire at the end of this year which confers special privileges on industry to spur development — as a problem, noting “staff does not find this development proposal consistent with the [vision for the area outlined in the county’s Comprehensive Plan].”
Other concerns raised by the planners include how the project would affect a proposed road that would link Pocahontas Trail with Route 143, how it would affect traffic on Pocahontas Trail on Sundays and the loss of developable industrial land.
Prior to voting on the proposal to rezone the land, the supervisors will host a public hearing to gather feedback from the public. The meeting is scheduled to begin 6:30 p.m. at the James City County Government Center.