The Arlington County Board unanimously approved the redevelopment of Arlington Presbyterian Church into an apartment complex with 173 affordable housing units at its meeting on Saturday.
“For over 100 years, Arlington Presbyterian Church has been a place where people of vision, connected with the community, have heard and responded to the needs of our neighbors,” the church said in a release. “As a faith community, APC is committed to creating and nurturing a community of disciples, being a people and place of crossroads for the Columbia Pike neighborhood, and redeveloping their property to provide affordable housing for those in their community.”
The project is a partnership between the church congregation and the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, the organization overseeing the sale of the property at 3507 Columbia Pike, demolition of the church and construction of the apartment building.
“One of the key benefits of stable, affordable housing is the stable households it creates,” said John Milliken, vice chairman of the APAH Board of Directors at Saturday’s meeting. “It’s a unique and special opportunity to partner with APC… in carrying out what it has determined as its spiritual mission.”
As part of the vote, Board members also approved approximately $18 million in loans to help APAH fund the project.
The new building will also include a three-floor parking garage and ground floor retail space.
“This is another case where our development tools, coupled with major transportation investments, are helping us transform the Pike into the ‘main street’ that the community has long envisioned, while preserving the rich resident diversity that makes this part of Arlington so special,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a statement.
The church first approved the redevelopment plan in November 2013, but the sale of the church to APAH wasn’t until this February. Now that the loan from the County has been approved as well, the project is expected to move forward as planned.
At the meeting, community members spoke in support of the project’s final approval.
“[My wife and I] really love our neighborhood, its diversity, its walkability, the history, and the people,” Columbia Pike and Arlington Presbyterian Church member Miles Townes said. “We’re concerned some of our neighbors are not able to live in our neighborhood anymore, and we plainly see that the need for affordable housing is growing on the Pike.”
The project also has the support of other area faith communities.
“This project is a perfect example of doing something now for generations yet unborn that will look back and say ‘thank you,'” said the Rev. Andrew Merrow of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.
Other Arlington-based community organizations also shared their support at the meeting.
“Knowing one’s privilege and power when living with different people and cultures avails us a powerful opportunity to know how to be creative with our resources,” said V.O.I.C.E. leader Rev. Tara Spuhler McCabe. “I am proud to know that a local congregation and my Presbyterian community has discerned a faithful response to a deep, abiding need.”
Mi Voz Cuenta (“My Voice Counts”) is an offshoot group of V.O.I.C.E. that is also in support of the redevelopment.
“I have witnessed the contributions that low-income families have made in our school community,”said Mi Voz Cuenta leader and Claremont Elementary School teacher Viviana Novillo. “They have enriched our lives by bringing their traditions, their values and their languages. We learn from each other, and we support each other.”
However, not all public comment on the project was positive.
“This project is yet another affordable housing charade, rubber-stamped by the usual crew of smart growth ideologues, from planning staff all the way up to the County Board,” said frequent County Board critic Jim Hurysz.
“If you approve of the loans for this project, you approve the continued socio-economic segregation of our county and our schools,” Liz Odar said citing recent U.S. census data. “Building affordable housing units in this area is irresponsible.”
The final public speaker was the Rev. Sharon K. Core of Arlington Presbyterian, who read a letter of support for the project signed by a lengthy list of religious community leaders in the county. Last month, she discussed the project in detail in a column for ARLnow.
“The decision to sell the property is a business decision,” she wrote. “But more than a business decision, it is also an act of faith. Likewise, the identification of APAH as our solid business partner is not just good due diligence. It is also good stewardship of the church’s resources.”