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Getting Planning Department Approval for Your Church

You go buy a piece of property to build a new church building. Who wouldn’t want a beautiful church next to their property? Not everyone will.

Here’s what happened at McLean Bible Church in Washington D.C. Some time ago, Lon Solomon called to say that they were outgrowing their current facility and needed to relocate to a bigger property. We looked for an area where we could build a facility that would accommodate several thousand people. There was a beautiful forty acre site that was owned by the National Wildlife Foundation in Tysons Corner, Virginia on Highway 7.

We were able to negotiate an agreement to buy the property. While still in escrow, during the due diligence phase, we had a neighborhood meeting to find out what the neighbors thought about the project. We found out that a lot of them had concerns or conflicts with the project. This was back when Bill Clinton was under investigation for the affair that he had with Monica Lewinsky. The reason that’s relevant is because one of the key members of the church was Ken Starr and he was working with us on the development process for the church. Coincidentally, one of Clinton’s advisors lived in a home that backed up to the property where we wanted to put the new facility and that person got the community up in arms against us, partly because of his dislike of Ken Starr. The neighbor was trying to defeat the church and stop them from utilizing the property. And he did a good job at it!

When we went to the planning department we received a Conditional Use Permit. It stated conditions that had to be met if we wanted to continue development on that property. There was already a building on the property. It was a big multi-story building, at least a four stories high. One of the conditions was that we could not add one square foot of building space to the property. We could only have the space that was represented in the existing building. Another condition stated that we could not cover any more ground with impervious surface (asphalt) than the current parking lot. The last condition said that we could not have an auditorium with more than two thousand four hundred seats. All of these stipulations were designed intentionally by our adversary to discourage us and get us to say “This is just not worth it. We’ll go somewhere else.” Remember: a Conditional Use Permit states restrictions and they are exactly as stated in that document. There’s a legal phrase –  the document lies within the four corners of the paper – meaning that anything that is not written in the document doesn’t apply. It’s black and white.

When I met with the leadership team at McLean, they were thinking about scrapping the whole project and looking at property somewhere else. I reminded them to look at the document and take it exactly as written: we could not add one square foot of building space. What it did not say is that we could tear the whole building down and build a brand new facility of the exact same size. We could not have an auditorium with more than two thousand four hundred seats, but it did not say how many auditoriums we could have. So we could have three auditoriums or five—the largest of which would seat two thousand four hundred people. Also, we could not cover any more ground with parking or impervious surface than existed. A six story high parking garage would not cover any more ground than the parking that was already there. So we were able to do everything that we wanted to do on that property.

All the effort to push through the development of the church under the Conditional Use permit did cause a problem: our forty million dollar project turned into an eighty million dollar project with all of the rebuilding and addition of the parking garage. But God always provides. Lon had lunch with a fellow from the church and explained the situation. The fellow offered that if Lon did a fundraising campaign with the four thousand members, he would match every gift, dollar for dollar. And he did. He wrote a check for about forty million dollars and that allowed us to build the church!

You can look up McLean Bible Church, located at Tysons Corner, Virginia on Highway 7. You’ll see the facility and the parking garage. It is a phenomenal ministry. They have six campuses now and are going to surround the entire Beltway with like-minded churches. If you can change Washington DC, you can change the world; Lon and the church are doing a great job of it! We are excited to see who the new pastor and staff continue this great work as Lon retires soon.

Call me and let us help you find property and walk through the approval process with you. You can download information-filled ebooks below. Remember what Solomon said: “Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.”

Brad Oaster – 719-439-3019

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