Fairfax Shelter Proposal Shelved

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bowing to intense community pressure, Fairfax City has abandoned plans to purchase a Fairfax County office building as new quarters for the Lamb Center, a regional day shelter for the homeless on Old Lee Highway.

After meeting with the City Council for an hour in closed session Tuesday evening, Mayor Robert F. Lederer announced that the city would not exercise its option to buy the 10,000-square-foot low-rise on Telestar Court in the Merrifield area for $2.6 million.

After the council voted last month to set aside money for the deal, residents in the Merrifield-Dunn Loring community, which is outside the Fairfax City limits, raised vehement objections to the plan, citing public drunkenness, trespassing and other problems at the center's current location.

Opponents also accused Lederer and the council of bad faith by publicly downplaying problems around the center while privately complaining and scrambling to rid the city of the facility at any cost.

Prospects for the center's relocation waned last week when county officials told the city it was unlikely that the Board of Supervisors would approve a special zoning exception required for the Lamb Center to operate in Merrifield.

"Clearly, for any of these facilities to work . . . it does require community buy-in," Lederer said. "It's fairly clear and obvious to us, for a variety of reasons, that the [Merrifield site] does not appear as if it's going to work out."

Community opponents said they were gratified by the city's decision.

"I think we got some vindication," said John Toman, a founding member of the Merrifield Citizens Association.

The city and county have spent months searching for a new location for the Lamb Center, a ministry of Truro Episcopal Church that provides spiritual support, job counseling, laundry and other services for about 60 homeless people each day. There is wide agreement that it has outgrown its current location, a 3,400-square-foot storefront near Fairfax Circle.

Discussions are already underway on another potential site -- a building on the grounds of the county's public safety center near Chain Bridge Road. County officials said the idea, proposed by County Executive Anthony H. Griffin, received a cool initial reception from the city.

Under the plan abandoned Tuesday night, the city was to have bought the Merrifield building and held it until the center received county zoning approval. The city then would have sold the building to the Lamb Center.

But with county approval in doubt, the council faced the possibility of owning a very expensive building for which it had no use.

Another potential complication for the move is the status of Truro, one of nine congregations in Northern Virginia that voted last month to break from the Episcopal Church, which they contend has deviated seriously from Scripture on issues such as homosexuality.

On Tuesday, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia announced that it would not renew a 30-day pledge to avoid litigation over property and other assets of the breakaway churches.

Truro officials said that the Lamb Center is supported by a coalition of 17 churches, not all Episcopal, and that there will be funds available to finance a move if a new site can be found.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company