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Residents fight to preserve historic Va. church

Residents fight to preserve historic Va. church. (Rich Reeve/ABC7)

Just off busy Church Road in Sterling stands a historical namesake.

But Sterling United Methodist Church, built in the 1870s, may soon be no more.

“It was very beautiful, very ornate,” said Jackie Anderson, a preservationist trying to keep the church from the wrecking ball. “I just think it's a piece of history, and it gives this area character.”

The church, which dates back to when Sterling was a rail stop called ‘Guilford’, has clearly seen better days.

Deconsecrated by the Methodist Church in 1980, it’s been used in recent years by a landscaping company for storage.

Its gray siding looks worn.

Paint is peeling around windows and doors.

“I just see it as kind of an eyesore,” said Daniel Palmer, a neighbor. “Just driving by it, I don't even know why it's there. Never see anyone go in there.”

County zoning officials have now approved a plan that will allow a developer to demolish the church, to make way for a five-level storage facility.

“It's time for it to go, and I think it's something they could definitely do something better with the land,” said Pat McCombs, the owner of a ski shop next door. “They’ve done a good job kind of renovating it as a landscaping storage area, but it's not being used the way it could be.”

Preservationist groups have fought the plan but acknowledge the developer, the Young Group of Falls Church, and the property owner have properly vetted their plans.

“The property owner has their right to do whatever they want,” said Bill Ewing, from the Sterling Historical and Preservation Committee, a preservationist group. “They think a storage facility makes good sense here. We want to support their right to do that.”

Several alternate ideas have been discussed.

One involved cutting the church in two and installing one-half behind the storage facility.

Another, lobbied for by preservationists, called for the developer to dismantle the church piece by piece, allowing it to go into storage until it could be rebuilt--as a church or part of something else.

“We can reconstruct it,” Anderson said. “Make it into something that's functional, not necessarily a church. Maybe a community center, something that's useful.”

But Friday, ABC7 News learned the demolition plan had been given the go-ahead.

“It's no secret I'm not a fan of another storage facility,” said Sterling District Supervisor Koran Saines.

Still, Saines says the Young group has agreed to build a small park, install a historical marker, and to keep the church spires on the property.

He says efforts to block the demolition may have come too late.

“This is kind of a wake-up call,” Saines said.

Saines says he hopes future projects will include better plans to preserve historic properties.

“We’re going to look to see if we can rebuild and bring them back with some new development,” he added.

Messages to the Young Group by ABC7 News were not returned.

Ewing says the demolition could happen ‘any day now.’

He hopes with other historical properties in Sterling, the outcome will be different.

“We have a lot of history here, and that history is diminishing,” he said.

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