Members of the Providence Baptist Church at Tysons Corner, after years of fending off eager developers, are taking steps to secure a buyer for the lucrative 2 1/2-acre site.
The church's lawyers last week pursuaded the Fairfax County Planning Commission to amend its master plan to permit commercial development on the church site, located next to the Tysons Corner Shopping Mall.
Two developers now are negotiating to buy the former apple orchard, which was purchased by parishioners for $14,000 30 years ago, for a sum of around $2.5 million, church officials said.
The church--its white steeple located just a couple of hundred feet from the posh Bloomingdales Department store --is a peculiar sight amid the shopping mall and high-rise office buildings. Located at 8120 Leesburg Pike, it is in the heart of what popularly has been called Fairfax County's downtown.
For years, despite the church's problems with weekend shoppers pirating its parking spaces, occasional vandalism and loitering, the church has resisted developers' overtures to sell. As membership increased, however, many church members changed their minds.
Now the congregation is considering one offer to purchase the 2 1/2 acres outright and a second proposal by a developer who wants to trade some nearby Tysons Corner property for the land and errect a new church on the alternate site, said Paul Reese Auchenbach, who heads a church committee that is reviewing the offers.
"We're expecting in the next few months we will be making a recommendation to the church," said Auchenbach.
Even with the current economic slump, area realtors say the church will not have any difficulty attracting purchasers, even if the current talks fall through. "I get almost one call a week from clients asking about it," said Pauline Thompson of the nearby Tysons Realty Corp.
Still, the prospect of selling and moving to another location in the area has deeply troubled some of the 750 members of the church.
"It could be a wrenching decision," said the Rev. Warren Bolling, the church's pastor. "There are some charter members who have been here since the church was built 30 years ago . . . and the thought of seeing it all bulldozed down could tear them apart." He said the congregation, which must approve any purchase offer by a two-thirds vote, is split 60 to 40 in favor of selling the church.
What's more, church officials estimate it could cost as much as their land is worth--$2.5 million --to build a new facility.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors now must vote on the planning commission's recommendations. Parishioner Robert C. Fitzgerald, whose Fairfax law firm represented the church before the commission, said the master plan revision was necessary because "no prospective purchaser is going to consider buying the land for church use."