Over Opposition, Council Votes to Buy Building for Shelter

Mayor Robert F. Lederer said officials couldn't find a new site for the Lamb Center, a daytime shelter for homeless people, within Fairfax City.
Mayor Robert F. Lederer said officials couldn't find a new site for the Lamb Center, a daytime shelter for homeless people, within Fairfax City. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Fairfax City Council has voted to buy an office building in Fairfax County to serve as a daytime shelter for the homeless, over the vehement objections of the building's neighbors.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday night to set aside $2.6 million to purchase a 10,000-square-foot low-rise building near Route 29 and Gallows Road, which is outside the city limits in the Merrifield area, as the home of the Lamb Center. The city, which has a 45-day option to complete the deal, plans to hold the property until the Lamb Center incorporates as a nonprofit organization and secures county approval to use it as a day shelter. The city would then sell the building, at 2924 Telestar Ct., to the Lamb Center.

The center is a ministry of Truro Episcopal Church that provides spiritual guidance, job counseling and laundry services for about 60 homeless people a day. City and center officials have long agreed that the shelter has outgrown its storefront quarters on Old Lee Highway near Fairfax Circle.

Mayor Robert F. Lederer said officials looked at a series of potential sites inside the six-square-mile city, including buildings on Pickett Road and Juniper Street, that were either unsuitable or unavailable.

Lederer opened the two-hour council hearing with a challenge to the community to find a new home for the center.

"If not Fairfax Circle, then where? If not Pickett Road, then where? If not Juniper Street, then where? If not Telestar Court, then where?" Lederer asked.

The answer, from nearly three dozen residents and tenants of houses, condominiums and offices near the Telestar Court site, was "anywhere but here."

They said the center would mar the recent resurgence of the Merrifield-Dunn Loring neighborhood and turn scores of potentially dangerous homeless people onto its streets when the facility closes in the late afternoon. They also cited incidents of trespassing and disorderly conduct at the Lamb Center's current spot.

Residents said they were ready for a long fight.

"We'll spare no expense," said Ekrem Sarper, co-founder of the newly formed Merrifield Citizens Association, who presented the council with 712 signatures in opposition.

Warren Bell, who lives at the nearby Yorktown Square Condominiums, said the center would turn the area into "campsites, overnight lodges and bathrooms for the center's residents." Others expressed concern about the safety of schoolchildren.

Paul Massimiano, a cardiac surgeon with offices across the street from the site, said: "All of our patients have one thing in common. They're all afraid, all very distracted, very vulnerable." A day shelter for the homeless nearby would be inappropriate, he said.

Some wondered why the city was prepared to pay $2.6 million for a building with an assessed value, according to county records, of $1.4 million. Lederer said an assessor hired by the city placed the building's market value much closer to the purchase price.

Others said residents' fears of the homeless were out of proportion. "Because of their inward focus, this subset is typically a very gentle population," said Bob Wyatt, the Lamb Center's executive director.

"It makes me so sad tonight to hear the fears that have been expressed," said Joan Meyer, who lives in Fairfax City near the Lamb Center. "These are human beings."

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