Arlington, VA

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Clarendon is proposing to lease part of its campus for private development and to make its grounds greener and more walkable.

The mid-century church sits on two-and-a-half acres of land wedged among Washington Blvd to the north, N. Kirkwood Road to the west and Fairfax Drive to the south. Parking occupies much of the lot, with the church and its auxiliary spaces lining N. Kirkwood Road and Fairfax Drive.

New renderings, however, reposition the church at the corner of Washington and Wilson Blvd, closer to Clarendon, with parish spaces and a private residential building fanning out behind the church. The building is likely to be an apartment building with a 100-child preschool at the base.

Currently a through-road and one-way loop wrapping around parking, Fairfax Drive would be converted into a walkable plaza. This “enables a comprehensive, pedestrian-friendly connection to Virginia Square and addresses north-south pedestrian access,” according to an architect’s report. Church parking would be accessible from Washington Blvd.

Bike lanes would be rerouted along the south side of the plaza to reduce interactions with pedestrians, the report said. The buildings would provide internal access to protected open spaces — a cloister, a playground and a courtyard.

St. Charles pastor Fr. Don Planty said in a January report the parish has spent the last three-and-a-half years studying the land, working with lawyers and architects and projecting potential costs. Recently, the project turned a corner.

Planty said in the report that Bishop Michael Burbridge of the Diocese of Arlington “has approved our recommendation to move forward with our project, seeking a development partner.” (Diocesan laws require the bishop to approve all developments.)

“This marks an exciting transition for us: we have long spoken about the ‘potential’ redevelopment of our site,” he wrote. “We now set about the exciting business of turning our vision into a reality.”

St. Charles plans to lease the western half of its site to a private developer, which would fund the changes proposed for the sacred half of the site.

Drafting a Request for Proposal and selecting a development partner could take six months or more, but would “clear the path for local government approvals and eventual construction,” Planty said.

Although the pastor described the future as promising, he said “we still have a lot of work to do.”

Like other proposed developments, including mixed-use buildings where Joyce Motors used to be and on the Wells Fargo/Verizon Site, aspects of the church’s proposed changes will not meet guidelines in the 2006 Clarendon Sector Plan. In preparation for these developments, Arlington County began mulling over changes to the sector plan in February 2020.

This winter, the county sought feedback on how people feel cycling and walking along Fairfax Drive and Wilson Boulevard between Clarendon Circle and N. Kirkwood Road and what could be done to improve the experience. This area includes St. Charles’s proposed pedestrian plaza and rerouted bike lanes.

Hat tip to Stephen Repetski

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