When it looked like he got the needed third, vote well-wishers started to congratulate Pastor Jared R. Arango Tuesday night. "I was elated. I wanted to jump up and shout," Arango said.
It didn't stop there. Two more votes came in and the measure passed unanimously. His congregation, the Peninsula Pentecostals, erupted in applause. The 5-0 vote ended a two-year quest before the Board of Supervisors to let the congregation build a new church in Grove, on a 40-acre of parcel off Pocahontas Trail.
The church plans to build a 130,000-square-foot facility on the property that includes a gas station and convenience store. In 2013, when the church first sought to build on the land, it was told the zoning ordinance allowed houses of worship by right.
But county planners later told the Board of Supervisors the wording was mistakenly included in the ordinance during a revision, leading to a controversial vote to revise the language after the church had submitted its application. The U.S. Justice Department launched an inquiry into the vote, but has provided no updates on any potential action.
The vote Tuesday was a remarkable turn around for the congregation, just a month after the Planning Commission voted against a proposal to rezone the land so the church could build. It capped an emotional meeting during which church members pleaded for their consideration.
At Tuesday's meeting Supervisor Mary Jones offered several apologies to the group for what she said was the difficult process they had been through.
"I was on the board through this entire ordeal," she said. "I apologize to the Pentecostal Community for the poor process and the poor treatment." She said the group "had the rules completely changed right up from under you."
Jones noted that she, along with Supervisor Jim Kennedy, supported the group during the 2013 vote. Board Vice Chairman Kevin Onizuk said he was a candidate at the time of the initial vote by the Board of Supervisors and that their cause had motivated him to win and make a difference in James City politics.
"These are people I want in my community. I appreciate their persistence and patience," Onizuk said.
County staff had opposed the zoning change, citing concerns over the proximity of the planned gas station to the Skiffe's Creek Reservoir. Tim Trant, an attorney for the congregation, said the station would be necessary to help provide revenue after the costly build and process the group had gone through to get the zoning ordinance changed. The congregation estimates it will bring more than 2,500 attendees for all of its services.