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IW Planning OKs church parking lot

Isle of Wight County’s Planning Commission is recommending approval of Rivers United Church’s request to continue using a parcel of land along River Run Trail as an overflow parking lot despite the objection of Otto and Betsy Wegman, who own an adjacent farm field.

The church had applied for after-the-fact permitting in April after the Wegmans complained to county zoning officials. At the Commission’s May 23 public hearing on the matter, Otto said he was concerned about runoff potentially impacting the soil quality on his farm.

“This does not protect my soil on the farm from any runoff from any vehicles that come in that might be leaking oil, transmission fluid, gas, anything else … directly into the soil,” Otto said.

“We have great respect for the wetlands; we have great respect for nature,” Betsy added. “That farm is very special. It’s been in the Holland family and the Duck family for over 100 years and I don’t want to see the soil damaged.”

While the couple were the only ones to speak in opposition to the parking lot, Betsy said she’d “talked to many” people who were “not happy” about it.

But Sean Domer, a representative of the church, says the gravel overflow parking lot is needed to accommodate the growth in its congregation following a merger between Coastal City Church and New Branch Community Church of Windsor a little over a year ago. When that happened, Coastal City changed its name to Rivers United, though Coastal City is still listed as the owner of the church and overflow parking lot on the county’s tax map website.

As a result of absorbing New Branch’s congregation, the existing parking lot surrounding what was Coastal City is no longer sufficient, Domer said. Were a new church to be built, modern building codes would require a sufficient number of parking spaces to be located on the same property, but the church building now known as Rivers United was built before those rules, he said.

According to Ring, the 1.75-acre parcel of land now being used as overflow parking previously contained a gravel driveway for a house and barn. But even with the gravel Rivers United has added, there’s still a significant gap between the new parking lot and the property line, Domer said.

Domer estimates the existing and new parking lots now accommodate between 60-70 cars between Rivers United’s 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. services. The old parking lot has about 20 spaces, so the gravel one holds about 30-35 vehicles at any given time.

The Wegmans had also complained about the demolition of farm buildings on the church-owned land, including two barns, a smokehouse and a chicken coop. But Commissioner Jennifer Boykin, who lives in the Walters/Carrsville area, described the outbuildings as “barely” standing.

“It looks a lot better [without them],” she said.

Rivers United is seeking three approvals: a zoning change from rural residential to village center and two exemptions from the county’s highway corridor overlay district regulations — one to allow the parking lot to remain gravel and another to allow it to encroach 10 feet into the required front-yard setback.

County staff had recommended approval of the rezoning application but denial of the HCO exemptions. With the Planning Commission’s unanimous vote to approve both the rezoning and the HCO exemptions now on record, the matter will head to the county’s Board of Supervisors June 10 for final approval. Ring said that assuming the board grants approval, Rivers United will need to go through a full site plan review to address stormwater needs.