The Alexandria City Council is expected to decide next Tuesday the fate of plans by the Alfred Street Baptist Church to demolish its approximately 90-year-old sanctuary at 313 S. Alfred St. and erect a new church on a site just to the north. Two 100-year-old houses, which local preservationists want to save, occupy part of the proposed church site.
In order for the church, the oldest black congregation in Alexandria, to proceed with its plans, the council must overturn the city Architectural Review Board's denial of a demolition permit for the two houses, 904 and 912 Duke St.
The council must also formally declare the church as "redeveloper" for the parcel of land, which is roughly the northern half of the block bounded by Wolfe, Duke, South Alfred and South Patrick streets in the Dip Urban Renewal area.
The Dip is being developed with local and federal funds as a residential district for low and middle income families. When plans for the project were drawn up nearly a decade ago, they include a new Alfred Street Baptist Church, with expanded facilities for community activities near the corner of Duke and South Alfred Streets, according to the pastor, Rev. John O. Peterson.
Now there is some concern among Alexandria city staff and some council members that the church may be unable to meet the nearly $100,000 in annual mortgage payments necessary for the new building.
Last week city manager Douglas Harman wrote the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which implements urban renewal plans in the city, questioning how the church would meet its increased financial demands after construction.
Peterson told the council at a public hearing last Saturday that the church expects to make a $13,000 annual profit on the day care center it intends to run in the new church.
Peterson said the church also expects its membership to continue growing and anticipates no problem in attracting gifts amounting to $53,000 annually from its members, in addition to tithes and offerings.
"The history of churches is that when there is a mortgage, church members subscribe and subscribe well," Peterson assured the council.
What has muddled the church's plans to demolish 904 and 912 Duke St. to clean the way for new construction is a law, passed in 1975, protecting any structure that is 100 years old and older and that lies within the boundaries of the Old and Historic District.
That law was not in effect when the new church was planned and the site selected. The Architectural Review Board rejected a request to demolish the two Duke Street houses in January. An appeal is now before the council, which can reverse the board's decision.
At Saturday's hearing, jean Keith, president of the Historic Alexandria Foundation, pleaded with the council to retain the houses.
"This is the way you lose an entire historic district," said Keith."If you conclude that a single building is not important then you will lose a whole area."
The two houses are located west of Washington Street, where most Old Town restorations are now being done.
"I thought it was agreed upon that that particular block would be cleared for the church," Joseph Shockency, a member of the church, told the council. "If those houses are so valuable, why didn't someone realize this 12 years ago."
"If the church's plans cannot go forward, they might feel this is a breach of faith," Redevelopment and Housing Authority Director Harland K. Neumann told the council.
The church hopes to build a 20,000-square-foot facility on two levels, to include a sanctuary, chapel, multipurpose room, offices and Sunday school rooms. Vosbeck, Vosbeck, Kendrick and Redinger, an Alexandria firm are the architects.