Dear Cloverly Residents
RCCG Jesus House DC is a mega church that is planning to relocate from downtown Silver Spring into the middle of our residential neighborhood. The proposed plans for the new site include a building with a foot print of 65,813 SF located in the Cloverly community in Silver Spring, Election District 5.
The community adjacent to the proposed development is in RE-2 which is composed of 2-3 acres single family homes built on well and septic. Many residents who moved to this neighborhood chose this area because of its serene and quiet setting, and to enjoy the forest and wildlife which enhances the quality of their lives. Below we have listed our major concerns about this development.
Scale of Development:
The proposed development covers 15.55 acres (a tract impact of 17.7 acres) including more than 10.2 acres of forest. It consists of a sanctuary with the capacity to seat 1,600 people, classrooms to seat 360 students in K through 12, a multipurpose gymnasium including a youth center, fellowship areas, administrative offices and 400 parking spaces including a below-ground parking garage. In addition, the church is planning to build a rectangular sports field that is 150 feet wide and 250 feet long with bleachers for 300 people just 100 feet away from a residential property. A development of this magnitude within a residential community will significantly diminish the quality of life for local residents. We question how local zoning codes in Montgomery County could allow construction of such magnitude so close to residential properties.
The proposed development will remove close to 5 acres of the existing 10.2 acres of contiguous forest that is classified as Priority Area 2 (moderate) forest by the Natural Resource Inventory/Forest Stand Delineation (NRIFSD) report. The existing forest is an even-aged, mixed hardwood forest dominated by yellow poplar and red maple trees with the average DBH of 14 inches, and an estimated 219 trees per acre. The NRIFSD report indicates that there are 14 significant specimen trees (trees with DBH greater than 30”) on site, and another 13 significant trees off site. The proposed plan has requested a variance to remove seven (7) of the above specimen trees. There are many other specimen trees with impact to their root systems that can cause gradual death soon after the development is in place. Local residents have received no evidence so far that a good faith effort is made to design the development in a way to protect these trees. The FCP plan shows that a portion of required 3.4 offsite planting is achieved by planting trees in front of the building adjacent to New Hampshire Ave. By eliminating the ballfield which requires the removal of a good portion of the existing forest the offsite planting can be eliminated and this area can be used for a smaller ballfield if the developer insists to have one. The construction of the ballfield in front of the building will reduce the amount of the deforestation, decrease the stormwater runoff, and will reduce the impact to air and water quality.
Storm Water Runoff:
The proposed development will increase the imperviousness of the existing site to 17 percent. This increased stormwater runoff will pass through residential properties before it drains into the nearby Bryant Nursery Stream and a culvert under a private road that are the only means of access for the four residents adjacent to this development. The existing stream and culvert are already significantly degraded and experience flooding when it rains. Any damage to this private culvert and road is currently the responsibility of the four residents next to this road. Based on a report prepared by Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection the total amount of impervious area in the Bryants Nursery Run subwatershed has increased by 60% in the past seven years (the imperviousness was 7 percent in 2009). This rapid increase of development is a threat to our streams and environment and the the additional imperviousness created by this new development will add further stress to this already degraded stream.
Water and Sewer:
It is our understanding that a water/sewer category change has been granted for the church and its school to be served and connected to public water/sewer. Currently, the approval is from a 17-year old study for a much smaller and less-complex project. Current developer was not required to go through a new water/sewer category change application process based on their proposed plans for this new project. A new application for water/sewer category change will allow County Council to consider new changes in the size and programming of the Jesus House and its impacts to the community, and will provide an accurate and up-to-date comprehensive analysis of the Jesus House application. However, County staff have decided instead to compare the Jesus House project with the project approved previously by the Council in 1999, CR 14-334. This is a major oversight as Jesus House does not compare to the project approved in 1999 for the following reasons: the first project was for a church 1/2 the size of Jesus house and did not propose a school, kitchen, gymnasium and offices. In addition, due to high ground water on the property a larger septic field would be required. This by itself would have doubled the size of the forest conservation area required to be preserved by the County Council Resolution CR-14-33. The Jusus House developer has to be required to do a perc test to determine water table elevations for the site.
The relocation of this development from its current location and addition of a 360 students for the K-12 school and a youth center will generate a high volume of commuter traffic coming from other parts of the County. This will create traffic congestion, noise, and pollution not only during the weekend but also during the week. We already have severe traffic congestion in the vicinity of this proposed development on New Hampshire Ave and nearby roads and intersections, particularly on the weekends. As a result, many residential roads particularly Bryants Nursey Road, a narrow rustic road, may be used as cut throughs. This new development could make this problem significantly worse and place additional stress on the already deteriorating roads and bridges serving this part of the County.
Parking: There are many house of worships along this stretch of New Hampshire Ave. Many cars park along both sides of New Hampshire Ave when special events are held. In addition to worship services and other religious activities for this church, the presence of a K-12 school, a youth center and a large ballfield will exacerbate traffic and parking congestion and create safety hazards for Cloverly residents and commuters using New Hampshire Ave.
The construction of the ballfield will require the destruction of 37,500 SF of undisturbed forest next to residential properties. As a result, these families will likely be exposed to significant noise and light pollution, particularly if the field is used in the evenings. The construction of this ballfield is absolutely unnecessary given the fact that a new park facility with five ballfields just opened within two miles of the proposed development. The elimination of this ballfield will save many trees, will reduce the amount of noise and light pollution, protect the local wildlife, and reduce the impact on air and water quality.
Quality of Life:
The removal of 5 acres of forest will eliminate visual and noise buffers for the adjacent properties, thereby aggravating the impact of the development. The quality of life for our community will significantly be impacted by losing our peace due to removal of forest and associated wildlife in it, by degrading air and water quality and increased amount of stormwater runoff directed toward our properties; by increased noise levels from church activities with a school population of 360 students including organized practices and games in a large ballfield with 300 spectators only 100 feet away from residential properties; by light pollution if the ballfield is allowed to be lit; and finally and not the least by additional traffic congestion and parking bringing people from other parts of the county.
Devaluation of Properties:
Based on all the impacts outlined above, we believe that a development of such scale will greatly reduce the value of our properties in the immediate neighborhood. If this development proceeds as it is planned, who will assume the financial loss to these homeowners?