Affordable Shelter for A Church, And People
"You're not supposed to have towering buildings next to a residential neighborhood," said resident Myra Probasco, 43, whose family has lived in the same Lyon Village home since her grandfather bought it in 1944. "We're afraid if we let this happen, then it'll set a precedent. All the smaller office buildings along Wilson Boulevard could also be rezoned."
The Rev. Alan D. Stanford, who has served as the church's part-time pastor for two years and will take the lead full time in August, said he is frustrated with the project's opponents. He said they fail to see the larger picture.
"They want us to be the quaint entrance to their community, and we feel we have an obligation to provide ministry," Stanford said. "It is very important we find the needs and fill them."
In the 1950s, First Baptist was a suburban mega-church boasting a membership of 2,000. Today the church serves four congregations -- two that speak English, one Vietnamese and one Spanish -- that meet in the church at different times each Sunday. None comes close to filling the 800-seat chapel. The four congregations have 400 members combined.
Among its many missions, the church runs one of Northern Virginia's largest clothing closets for the needy and hosts a theological center for night students. The church is focused largely, Stanford said, on tending to 21st-century needs. Affordable housing is one of the area's most pressing needs, and his congregation is interested in addressing the problem, he said.
That mission is impossible, he said, with the limitations of the current church facility.
Church officials said the aging structure needs $4 million to $5 million in repairs and maintenance, an amount the current membership cannot support. Rather than sell the building, officials decided to explore other options.
"We had to ask ourselves if we were going to put our money into constant repair or into our ministry," Stanford said.
"The church of the holy roof repair," added Foster, who was helping Stanford and other church officials explain the project to a visitor.
"The main thing now in Arlington is the question of whether churches are going to use their property to meet the needs [of the people] like this," Stanford continued. "This is a test case for the faith community."
The County Board voted last week to defer any action on the proposal until Oct. 2 to allow the stakeholders to make refinements in the plan -- particularly concerning the height of the proposed apartment building -- and to ensure that the county's financial support, if provided, is a good value.
"The board believes there are significant community benefits to this project. However, further refinements are necessary to more appropriately balance the impacts and benefits of the project," board Chairman Barbara A. Favola (D) said in her motion to defer the vote.
The church has hired the nonprofit Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing as a consultant. Church officials said they plan to borrow about $30 million to pay for the development. The money would come from several sources, including federal housing tax credits, an Arlington Housing Investment Fund loan and conventional financing. Rent from the apartments would be plowed back into the residential mortgage.
Stanford said the project is a solid idea. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block, he thinks, is change.
"People thought that the church would always be here, just the way it is," Stanford said. "The church wants to be a living, vital entity." The opponents of this project "want us to be an historic relic."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company