The Arlington Hospital Foundation is developing plans to build a retirement apartment complex and nursing home in Arlington on the four-acre site of the Calvary Church of the Nazarene at Wilson Boulevard and N. Manchester Street.

The foundation has a contract to purchase the church property near a residential area for $1.8 million, contingent on the County Board and Health Systems Agency of Northern Virginia approving plans for the life care facility.

Dr. Kenneth M. Haggerty, president of the foundation, said the group has paid a consultant $35,000 to study the need for such a facility. "It's a top priority for us right now," he said. "We feel there are some unmet needs in the county."

Between 1970 and 1980, when the county's population dropped 12 percent, the number of residents 65 and older increased 30 percent. There are three nursing homes and four retirement homes in Arlington, almost all with long waiting lists.

Last month, the County Board rejected a developer's plan to build a $40 million, 297-unit, eight-story retirement home on the 20-acre Hendry Estate because it felt such a facility was inappropriate for the surrounding single-family neighborhood on N. 24th Street and would create significant traffic congestion.

If the hospital foundation project wins approval, it would be the first county life care facility, a complex that includes a residential retirement home and a smaller nursing home to serve those residents.

"In essence what we think is needed is a place where people can have their own apartments with a nursing home right there in the event that a person can no longer take care of himself," Haggerty said.

Haggerty said he does not know what the consultant will recommend with regard to height and density. Haggerty did say, however, that initial plans call for tearing down the church and two homes on the church property and constructing a retirement apartment building and a smaller nursing home, which could serve about one-quarter the number of apartment residents.

In early conversations with the county's planning staff last month, Haggerty discussed building a 240-unit, eight-story apartment building and a 60-bed, three-story nursing home, according to Planning Division Supervisor Gary Kirkbride.

Earlier this month, Haggerty discussed preliminary plans for the facility with representatives of the Dominion Hills and Boulevard Manor civic associations, whose members live near the church.

In a letter to the County Board written two weeks ago, Jim Landrum, president of the Boulevard Manor group, expressed some concerns about density and traffic. "Our first concern is the size of the proposed facility," Landrum said in the letter.

"Although Dr. Haggerty stated he did not know exactly what size the proposed facility would be, he did indicate that at least 240 apartment units and a 60-bed nursing facility would be necessary for the facility to be cost effective. Dr. Haggerty indicated that preliminary drawings show two buildings of three to eight stories . . . . We feel that buildings as high as that are not needed or wanted in our single-family home neighborhood . . . . In addition to the actual size of the structure, we are concerned about the predictable increased traffic."

"I think the initial reaction was favorable," said Henry McFarland, former president of the Dominion Hills Civic Association. "There is a need for a life care facility."

Haggerty said he plans to meet with the civic associations again as soon as he receives the consultant's recommendation, which could be as early as next month.

He said the foundation will file rezoning and site plan approval requests with the county in August, which would mean the project could go before the County Board this fall.

Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Albert C. Eisenberg said it was too early to comment on the project but said he is receptive to the idea. "We really need to locate a facility of this nature somewhere in the county," he said. CAPTION: Picture, Plans call for the Calvary Church of the Nazarene building at 5900 Wilson Blvd. to be torn down and replaced by a retirement/nursing home complex that would be built by the Arlington Hospital Foundation. The foundation has a contract to purchase the church property near a residential area for $1.8 million, contingent on the County Board and Health Systems Agency of Northern Virginia approving plans for the life care facility. By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post