As pastor at Discovery United Methodist Church near Short Pump, Adam Sowder preaches about building community. Now, with the help of a local developer, Sowder and the church are taking that idea literally.
The church and Rob Lanphear of Pivot Development are planning to build 25 townhomes on part of the church’s property at 13000 Gayton Road.
“This is really an opportunity to kind of build community in a literal way and make more neighbors,” Sowder said.
The two-acre site, located on the south side of the church’s land near the intersection of Gayton Road and Lauderdale Drive, was once where the church had mulled a major expansion. Ed Sterling, chairman of the church’s board of trustees, said several years ago the church considered building a family life center on the land.
“After they got it budgeted and estimated, the church leadership wasn’t sure that was the best path forward or route to take to expand the ministry,” Sterling said. “It never did get off the ground.”
Sowder, who joined the church in 2017, said he thinks churches that have added large gymnasiums and other buildings have lived to regret it.
“The reality is ministry hasn’t been done like that for decades. It was maybe a good idea at the time, but that’s not how churches grow now,” Sowder said.
In 2019, the church and Lanphear began talking about developing the site.
“My sweet spot is infill residential development, and this particular site happens to fall in that niche,” Lanphear said. “It’s one where there’s a site that’s already zoned for townhomes.”
Added Sterling: “We’ve got this wonderful location in the heart of Short Pump that seems well-suited for additional development. In light of the fact that our ministry missions have been refocused, we have surplus assets there.”
Lanphear recently submitted a preliminary plan of development to Henrico County calling for 25 townhomes. He said it’s too soon to know who the homebuilder for the townhomes would be, but that he hopes to break ground in the first half of 2022.
If the project goes as planned, the church will subdivide the two acres from its roughly eight-acre site and sell it to Lanphear and Pivot.
In the early days of the pandemic, Sowder said Discovery began hosting the West End Farmers Market on its site, and that while the market itself doesn’t set up on the prospective townhome plot, many attendants use it as a parking area.
Sowder hopes Discovery would be able to continue hosting the market even after the townhomes are built.
“There’s plenty of space on the Discovery property … to help ensure that there would still be a farmers market here and allow us to do the development,” Sowder said. “We love the farmers market. It’s one of the best things to have happened to us, and it happened during COVID.”
Before the pandemic, Discovery’s Sunday worshipping attendance was over 300. Sowder said Sunday attendance is now around 100, with hundreds more tuning in through online streaming.
In lieu of growing the church through big, additional buildings, Sowder said a more modern approach is in adding satellite locations, mostly by purchasing real estate from churches that are closing. While Discovery hasn’t gone down that road, Sowder said he wouldn’t be opposed to it.
“Speaking for myself, yeah I’ve had conversations with some of the Methodist leadership from the district, that if there was a church that needed help in the Richmond area, that I do believe we have the team that could do that,” Sowder said.