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Dumfries Leaders Allow Church to Worship in Commercial Building

A church congregation will move from Stafford County to Dumfries, and it will worship inside of a commercial building.

The Dumfries Town Council approved a conditional use permit, or CUP, for the Grass Roots Christian Fellowship church who will become the newest tenant of the Elwey Center building on U.S. 1. The special permit was required because, prior to the Council’s vote, the building was zoned for business use only.

“We started in Stafford, and when we expanded we started to look in for new places to worship in Stafford and doors kept shutting and, so I began to pray, and while looking for a new place kept driving to Dumfries and I felt like this is the place where we are supposed to be,” said Pastor Herschel Chenault.

Supporters of the church packed the town’s Council Chambers Tuesday night prior to the vote leaving standing room only. There, church officials were met with questions from town officials as well as business owners whom didn’t support the issuance of a special permit to the church.

“I’m not a fan of CUPs, either you conform or you don’t,” said Councilman William Brewer.

Additionally, building tenant Caldwell Consultants cited security concerns. They feared a building that was unlocked afterhours could pose a threat for their employees who regularly work after 5 p.m.

“I’m hearing this and its not making sense to me… we’re not talking about an organization that sells crack, we’re talking about a group of people who will be worshipping god here,” said Councilwoman Helen Reynolds.

Other members of the Council welcomed the church to Dumfries, and said they liked a plan from Chenault who said his church would partner with community service organizations like ACTS to help town residents in need. 

“Thank you for considering Dumfries, for as small as we are, and just driving by it, sometimes you can miss this place, and it’s great that you are going to bring people here from Stafford and Fredericksburg,” said Councilman Derrick Wood.

The church is made up of about 60 members in their congregation and currently meets at a hotel off Garrisonville Road in North Stafford. When they move to their new 4,300 square feet space in the Elwey Center, Grass Roots Christian Fellowship will join 14 other churches that call the town home.

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  • David Moss

    Saying that you don’t like Conditional Use Permits because you either conform or you don’t is like saying that you don’t like talkies because the sound distracts you and you don’t like fuel injectors because they make cars go too fast. How about bacteria? Are you upset that penicillin was discovered?

    • Council Member Brewer could have stated his position about Conditional Use Permits (CUP’s) a little better, but he did get his meaning across. B1 zones in the town are designated for business use and not for churches, hospitals, Funeral Homes, etc. To have churches, hospitals, funeral homes, etc. you need to apply for a CUP and that is fine, but the problem in Dumfries is that there is a high density of churches in the town of Dumfries already. There are now 16 churches in the 1.5 mile area of the town. How many churches do you need for such a small town? and the traffic is now going to be worse on Route 1 especially on Sunday mornings. In addition, when you bring in a church in a B1 zone you reduce the towns tax base from businesses that pay town taxes.

      Your analogy to fuel injectors, movies or/and penicillin has me wondering where you are coming from. Maybe you need to read the comprehensive plan for the town of Dumfries. A church in a B1 Zone does not meet what is in the comprehensive plan.

      The CUP was approved due to a very noticeably divide between the liberal council members and the conservative council members.

  • David Moss

    “… wondering where you are coming from…”, “… read the comprehensive plan…
    I apologize for not properly identifying my professional position. As a city planner with over 10 years of experience, with my certification from the American Planning Association, and with my former certification from the Virginia Association of Zoning Officials as a Certified Zoning Administrator, I am coming from the position of a professional who has worked with conditional use permits and who has negotiated with applicants on behalf of municipalities regarding conditions, as well as staffing planning commissions and elected bodies.
    Unless the township has updated their comprehensive plan in the previous 18 months, then I am the primary author of the most recent updates to the comprehensive plan. While Town Planner and Zoning Administrator for the Township in 2011 and 2012, I worked with many stakeholders, the planning commission, and the public to craft goals and strategies for the town’s vision for the future. Explanatory text filling the spaces between the goals and strategies were most often written by me. This all means that I hold a strong understanding of the comprehensive plan, and the reasons for the current state of the zoning ordinance regarding conditional use permits, which was thoroughly amended during my tenure.
    Please don’t take my participation in the process to infer any agreement on my part with the substance of the changes. The goals were given to me by others to institute as they saw fit, and I was happy to develop the functional and logical implementation of those goals as an impartial consultant.
    The broad point is that if conformance to the zoning ordinance were sufficient in and of itself, municipalities would not have invented nor continue to use and tweak adaptive measures such as conditional use permits.
    One possibility for shaping the future of the town is to focus solely on the form of development and thoroughly measurable impacts (of which congestion is not one) through the adoption of a form-based code in place of (very specifically replacing through legislation) the land use controls of the zoning ordinance. The practice of having 2 town bodies review any requests for development that are not already completely sanitized for public consumption would be replaced by a transparent logic- and math-based quantification. If you meet all of the requirements, you get a building permit, and if you don’t, you don’t. When I introduced this topic into discussion before the planning commission and town council, it gained no traction.
    As long as the town wants to have some ability to negotiate with developers and applicants, it will continue to tweak conditional use permits.

    • David Moss – As one of the architects of the Town of Dumfries and with all the credentials and experience that you bring to the table can you tell us why the town would want a church in a B1 zone when there are other zones that have been set aside for church use? Can you give your opinion on why the town would want to give up a tax revenue area but instead give it to a church under a CUP in a B1 zone that would not pay any city taxes?

      I do agree that there does need to be changes to the way the Town of Dumfries regulates its development. Your suggestion of have a “transparent logic and math-based quantification” sounds good. You would use a CUP would for the zoning exceptions, but is that not how the process is suppose to work? Hopefully there will be a major change in the Dumfries town council in May 2014 with the replacement of 3 council members and hopefully these topics can be addressed for future generations.

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