The Arlington County Board approved a plan last night to let a publicity-shy but powerful religious foundation continue operating two youth dormitories in its North Arlington neighborhood despite concerns raised by neighbors after one of the organization's young members committed a string of burglaries there last year.
The board voted 4 to 1 to allow the Fellowship Foundation Inc. -- a group best known for putting on the National Prayer Breakfast each year -- to continue to operate its dormitories for young men and women, located in two houses on North 24th Street in the Woodmont neighborhood.
Under an agreement reached by the county and the organization, the buildings together will now house as many as 12 college-age men and women and will be monitored by a neighborhood advisory committee, officials said. If another crime is committed by a resident of either house, the county automatically would hold a review hearing on the homes' permit.
"We think we are doing what is absolutely necessary to assure ourselves that these young people are a credit to the program and a credit to the neighborhood, and we don't have a repeat of the individual problem that occurred almost a year and a half ago," said Richard Carver, the foundation's president.
Carver's nondenominational organization, which counts several powerful members of Congress and the Bush administration among its members, describes itself as a loosely connected group that advises the rich and powerful on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Every president starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower has attended its prayer breakfast, held each February.
In addition to religious study, the residents of the dorms wait tables and perform chores at the Cedars, the white-columned mansion at the end of the block that the Fellowship Foundation has used as a spiritual retreat. Countless politicians and ambassadors have sought refuge there over the years; pop singer Michael Jackson was a guest.
In August 2003, a 21-year-old resident of Ivanwald, the men's dormitory, broke into nearby homes searching for prescription drugs. He later pleaded guilty to two of the break-ins.
Neighbors complained that the foundation was illegally running group homes for troubled youth on their street, a characterization that fellowship officials disputed. Some neighbors said the new agreement should require criminal background checks for those living in the dorms.
"As longtime residents, we need to be protected," said Rose Kehoe, past president of the Woodmont Civic Association. "They need to have better management so that the kids can get the professional help that is needed. The management is keeping it very secret and not out in the open.
"We don't know who is running around. We don't know if they are criminals or previous sex offenders."
Carver said that the group was doing what it could to reach out to neighbors in the aftermath of the burglaries, saying it had met with residents of more than 90 nearby homes.
"We have been aggressively reaching out and probably should have done that a long time ago," Carver said.
"We're going to continue to do that . . . becoming a much more active part in the neighborhood."