The Western Fairfax County Citizens Association Land-Use Committee on Tuesday ordered the Centreville Presbyterian Church to shut down a fire pit on church property after neighbors complained that the open fires could rapidly spread to nearby homes.
The committee action, which is advisory only, came as part of a permit application by the church to increase the enrollment at the Ad Fontes Academy, a small private school which leases space at the church. The academy wants to increase its enrollment threshold from 99 to 150 students and add grades 1-4 to make the school a full K-12 general education facility, said John Rinaldi, a planning consultant hired by the church.
The panel said they had no problem with the academy expansion, but were worried about the fire pit, located in a wooded area next to the church which is also adjacent to a series of homes in Virginia Run. In addition to the danger to the homes, the parkland next to the site contains a globally rare oak-hickory forest.
Neighbors have observed unattended fires and fires burning with adults present but with no means to extinguish the fires, said Tami Troscianecki, who lives in Virginia Run next to the church.
“Should a fire spread to the forest, the effect would be devastating for the homeowners and Fairfax County,” Troscianecki told the panel. “The nearest fire hydrant is located quite a distance away. The surrounding park land has no fire hydrants and is not on the public water system.”
“If a fire broke out in the forest from the pit, it would be a disaster and beyond the ability of the fire department and the community to respond,” said Ted Troscianecki, Tami’s husband who also attended the meeting.
The fire pit is not a normal part of church activities, but is used one to two times a year by a local Boy Scout troop, said Jenni Aiello, the church property manager. Aiello said the Fairfax County Fire Marshall visited the site on Tuesday and gave them a green light for continued use of the pit.
“The Boy Scouts use it for their ceremonies,” Aiello said, “and there are procedures for them to use the pit to make sure it’s done safely.”
However, Tami Troscianecki said they encountered a group using the pit for a sanctioned event that did not seem to know how to control or put the fire out.
Jim Hart, a member of the appeals board who attended the meeting as an audience participant, said he could not remember the fire pit as part of the original permit application. Normally, if it was not part of that initial application, it would not be a permitted activity on church property, he said.
In the end, the panel sided with the neighbors and approved the permit amendment only if the church eliminated the pit. Rinaldi said the church planned to appeal the finding to the County Board Of Zoning Appeals on June 6.