The Falls Church Anglican, the large congregation of defectors from the Episcopal Church denomination who occupied but was eventually forced by the courts to vacate the historic Falls Church site on S. Washington St., has bought a new five-acre location at 6565 Arlington Blvd. within a mile of its former site in Fairfax County.
The Rev. John Yates, who led the congregants en masse out of the Episcopal Church in 2006 but occupied the F.C. church property for over six years, announced to his flock last week that the closing on the new property was completed, and now the hurdles associated with permits and licensing from the county will be pursued.
The property, on Route 50 at the intersection of S. Cherry Street, is currently home to a four-story commercial office building and a two-story parking deck. Preliminary plans are to demolish the parking deck, build a new one on the other end of the property and construct a new sanctuary building.
Fairfax County’s Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross, who was aware the church group was looking for something in her district in that area, told the News-Press that “there will be challenges for them” at that site. “There will have to be a close look taken at land use regulations and the business and residential neighbors to the site will have to be consulted,” she said. “Route 50 is a very busy roadway and the impact of traffic of a house of worship there will have to be examined.”
She said she will also look at the loss to the county’s tax rolls of having a commercial property convert to a non-profit use.
In a glossy 20-page brochure shared with the congregation, which was also urged to keep the plans silent even after the sale was completed, it is stated, “It is true that this new church home will cost us a lot of money,” citing a “third party appraiser” who set its value at $33,600,000, with an estimated purchase price of $29 million and an additional $23 million for new construction. Going to closing, the brochure stipulated, would require “pledges and cash totaling at least $10 million: of that $5 million is needed up front for the down payment.” The brochure predicts that new worship space could be constructed by 2017 or 2018.
According to Gross, the property is assessed by the county at $19 million, considerably less than what the church paid for it, and in its current use it provides $238,856 annually in taxes, about $207,000 of which are real estate taxes that go into the county’s general fund and would be lost if the property were converted to non-profit use.
In the brochure, it is stated, “For a long time, it seemed door after door was closed as members of our church family sought out possible sites for a new church home. Then, door after door was opened for this new location. After diligent work and a season of parish-wide prayer, we voted overwhelmingly to proceed toward a purchase. Humbly and boldly before God, we believe that this piece of land is where He wants us.”
Upon learning of the News-Press’ report on this matter that first appeared on its website, FCNP.com, Yates wrote to his congregation, “Some of you may have read the article about our property purchase in the Falls Church News-Press. The editor/author references having seen our Forward brochure and quotes from it, as well as quoting from my remarks during services last Sunday. He also has apparently met with the county and discussed the process and requirements for the development of the property.”
“While we would have preferred to have our plans fully developed before public attention came our way,” Yates continued, “I am confident that we are ready to have preliminary conversations with the community and share with them our hopes for being good neighbors to them. We have just made the final selection of our architect and the firm will be seeking input from the congregation….The wardens and I will be working on ways to reach out to the surrounding area and begin engaging.”
He added that church offices will be set up in the office building on the property this year, and that the church has established a limited liability corporation to manage the office building for all its current commercial tenants. “Offices and some meeting space for our ministries will be in the new building later this year, however we will continue to worship at other locations for the next few years as we are still in the very early stages of long-range planning,” Yates wrote.
Since being expelled by the courts from the historic Falls Church property in the center of the City of Falls Church in 2012, the congregants loyal to Yates have been renting locations around the area for their Sunday worship and other purposes, including the auditoriums at Bishop O’Connell High School and Kenmore Middle School in Arlington. That has been costing almost $1 million a year, the brochure says.
The congregation’s defection from the Episcopal Church in 2006 was due in large part to its negative reaction to the Episcopal Church’s 2003 election of the Rev. Gene Robinson as an openly-gay priest as a bishop.
Those members of the Falls Church Episcopal Church who did not go along with the defectors maintained their identity as “Continuing Episcopalians,” worshiping in the fellowship hall of the Falls Church Presbyterian across the street from the historic church. Since returning to the historic Falls Church in 2012, they have seen their congregation numbers growing steadily.