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 that area, told the News-Press today 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, it is stated, “It is true that this new church home will cost us a lot of money,” with an estimated purchase price of $30,9925,000 and an additional $23 million for new construction. Going to closing, it 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.
Since being expelled by the courts from the historic Falls Church property 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 the Episcopal Church’s 2003 election of the Rev. Gene Robinson as an openly-gay priest as a bishop. Those in 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, and have been returned to the historic Falls Church since 2012, with the congregation steadily growing since.