Over the last several months, Columbia Baptist Church and Edie and Sarah Snyder, the wife and daughter of longtime Falls Church City Council member Dave Snyder, respectively, have been trying to get approval from the City for a project that would allow the Snyders to build a new house for Sarah in their backyard and add additional parking to the church’s property.
The project would also help “secure the historic and residential character of the 300 block of North Maple Avenue for the foreseeable future,” Edie said in a letter to the News-Press. The four other houses on the east side of the block are all Victorian-style homes registered with the Victorian Society of Falls Church.
The project began when Edie and Sarah approached Columbia Baptist and asked the church if they would be willing to sell 1,400 square feet of land to create a lot for Sarah to build a house on. The additional land that would come from the church would allow Sarah to build on the Snyders property while maintaining the 11,250 square-foot lot size the City requires for historic homes like the ones the Snyders currently live in.
Brett Flanders, executive director of Columbia Baptist Church, said that by adjusting the lot lines of the properties they own next to where Sarah’s house would be built, they would be able to add 30-35 parking spots to property. Flanders said the church currently has problems with capacity in its parking lot, especially during weekdays when the church’s Child Development Center is in session. This results in church patrons resorting to street parking or parking across the street from the church and traversing N. Washington Street to get to the church.
“Our biggest parking challenge is during the week….We have a pretty good amount of parking on Sunday, but during the week we have 350 preschoolers here every day,” Flanders said. “And we have 1,000 people who come through our doors on a daily basis, so it’s a challenge to make sure that everyone can safely park and can get in and out as easily as possible.
“So that’s our biggest driver – to get people off the street, so that they’re not parking on the street, so that they’re not walking across the street – to make sure we can provide as much safe parking as we can get.”
The situation seems like it would be a win for all parties involved, including the City, but the approval process has taken longer than the Snyders expected. “Our efforts have been in keeping with code, public policies, and City plans and have been completely transparent. We have engaged with our neighbors, going door to door, describing the project and listening to their recommendations,” Edie said.
“We have worked extensively with City staff and discussed our proposal at several City Council and Planning Commission work sessions and with interested committees to learn how we might make it better.”
In a discussion with the News-Press, Sarah said that she and her mother have met with City staff approximately 15 times to discuss the project. As a result of their desire to gather and respond to feedback on the project, the Snyders have recently submitted an amended application for the project which includes a sidewalk on the east side of the 300 block of N. Maple Avenue where one currently does not exist.
Flanders said that he is a accustomed to the time that projects like these can take to get approval from the City. “We know that there’s always going to be challenges that we’re going to have to overcome in order to make sure that we’re all on the same page, that the City is happy with what we’re doing [and] the neighbors are happy,” Flanders said.
“So, personally I’m kind of used to these things taking quite a bit of time. I kind of expected it to take some time, so it’s not unexpected, but we’re happy to work with the City and make sure that we’re dotting all the Is and crossing the Ts.”
Then, in the days leading up to Edie and Sarah readying their final application to go City Council for a first reading, Edie said that she began to hear rumors suggesting that “there may be a perception that” David has used undue influence to ensure that the project is approved. David is the longest serving council member currently on City Council and former vice mayor, but the City said in a statement to the News-Press that he has recused himself from any discussion of the project any time it’s come before council.
“Council member David Snyder, who is a party to this application, has recused himself from the discussion every time the matter has come before Council,” the City said in a statement. “Mayor David Tarter and Council member Dan Sze have also recused themselves from the discussion.”
Sarah said they don’t even talk about the project at their house, where she lives, and Flanders said he hasn’t seen David involve himself in the matter other than to give support to his wife and daughter outside of council. “I would like to think that the service he has provided to this city wouldn’t hinder this project, but I’m a little worried that it has,” Sarah said.
Edie said that hearing the rumors about her husband was “discouraging.” “I think it makes me feel sad,” Edie said. “Our daughter, she’s grown up in the City, she’s lived here since she was six months old, went all the way through the school system, she had a different view of what Falls Church was about when we started this project then she does now.”
The City said that the application will go through “the usual process of going before the Planning Commission for a recommendation for the rezoning and approval of the subdivision and to City Council for final approval of the rezoning.”
But the time that the process has taken has essentially put Sarah’s life on hold, she said. “I’m currently living with my parents. I’m a school counselor in Arlington. I’ve had a solid job for years,” Sarah said. “I’m 30. I’ve had a boyfriend of nine years. We actually both went through the school system in Falls Church….So I think the thing is that we’d like to move forward with our life and I’d like to do that next to my parents. We have a really solid relationship.”