Church faces demolition because of airport expansion plans

Posted at 11:34 PM, Aug 28, 2012

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WTVR)--A church at the center of a proposed Chesterfield airport runway expansion is eager to hear more news about the plans.

Now that federal and state grant funds are trickling into the county, members of Fair Havens Church say it’s becoming more of a reality.

Chesterfield leaders will use grant money to conduct an environmental assessment of potential development at the county airport. The plans which include extending the runway would likely cause property owners to be uprooted.

Pastor Bob McEachern says the plans are hovering like a big dark cloud. The church he has pastored for eight years is in the line of the proposed runway expansion zone.  The modest brick church has been there for more than thirty-two years, he says.

Fair Havens church is located at the intersection of Belmont and Cogbill Roads.

McEachern says if this goes through, their church would have to be torn down. That stings, because the church is about a year away from paying off its mortgage.  He says among members, that thought evokes quite a bit of emotion.

“They have physical memories, emotional memories and spiritual things happened here. So, yes, there’s a tie to this place,” added McEachern.

The pastor says he keeps in touch with some of the other property owners that might be impacted, including another church that plans to build a brand new facility on an empty lot at that same intersection.

“They’re looking at this thing like us. They hope it will go away, but it may not and it could happen in the next two to five years,” explained McEachern.

Now that federal and state funds are in the county’s reach, he says reality is setting in. “Now that they have the money to do the assessment, it’s moving a lot. Somebody is going to spend more than 600,000 dollars to do it, so yes, it’s serious now,”  McEachern added.

CBS 6 News spoke with the county’s Deputy Director of General Services, Charlie Dane about the issue. He says in the next 18 to 24 months an environmental study will be done and will focus on several things.

“Historic and architectural barriers, wetlands, socio-economic factors, noise. There’s a series of things that will have to be reviewed and studied,” Dane said.

To the pastor and his congregation, waiting for the outcome of that assessment will be one of the toughest parts.  That’s because he says their church can’t even look at other sites, because they don’t know how much money the county would be willing to offer them to acquire the church property.

 "I can't imagine they would give us enough money for us to be able to have six acres and put a building on it.  I just don't want to try to move after we have a building paid for. If we have to move, we will understand but we hope not to move” McEachern said.

Dane says it will be a fair process when it’s time to start talking land acquisition. He adds there will be multiple appraisals done on the affected properties.

The total airport expansion project could take five years or more, with ample opportunity for citizens to voice their concerns.

If approved, the federal government would pick up 90 percent of the $13 million dollar price tag. The state would kick in eight percent and Chesterfield County would pay two percent.

That environmental assessment is set to begin in a few weeks, with a bulk of the work to be done next spring and summer.  CBS 6 News will continue to follow this story and bring you the latest.