The Falls Church Planning Commission voted unanimously Monday night to forward its OK to a zoning variance that would permit a new 120-foot high steeple to rise above a new Columbia Baptist Church building on N. Washington Street. The matter will now come before the City’s Board of Zoning Appeals, which rules on such variance requests, on Oct. 17. The current height limit by code is 70 feet, although the church’s present steeple is higher than that and the steeple of the Christ Crossman Methodist Church across the street is 107 feet.
The Columbia Baptist church’s hopes have been buoyed by a new Virginia law that went into effect earlier this year which modifies the conditions that localities can adopt for issuing zoning variances, changing language from “unnecessary or unreasonable hardship to the property owner” with “unreasonably restrict the utilization of the property.”
The higher steeple would top a new 35,000 square foot sanctuary building on the site which would provide seating for 1,192, compared to the church’s current sanctuary that has seating for 750. The Planning Commission also unanimously OK’d from minor revisions to the site plan for that building, which will face directly onto N. Washington.
As for the steeple, if approved its top would become the second highest point in the City, next to the radio tower adjacent the Falls Church Episcopal behind Tower Square. Planning Commission chair Andy Rankin shared the view of others on the board that his only objection to the higher steeple would be if the Crossman church across the street protested. Columbia representatives said they have been in touch with Crossman people and they’re OK with it.