“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Town.” That’s what Councilman Chuck Anderson called the recent move by the Town of Vienna to purchase the 3 acres on Center Street that Faith Baptist Church has called home for a literal lifetime. The congregation celebrates its 68th year of service to Vienna on September 2, 2020. Nearly all of that time was spent on this property, purchased around 1952 from the Bowman family, whose historic house was also the Town's first school.
Pastor David Mathews (shown at left, foreground), who has served the Vienna community with this congregation for the past 12 years, shared, “this is a wonderful thing for the town,” echoing the sentiments expressed by all 7 members of the council at the meeting, 3 of whom were joining remotely. The moment of unity was a refreshing diversion from debates over zoning, trees, and time limits. The pastor and many council members took time individually to publicly thank Town Manager, Mercury Payton, (shown at left, background, 2nd from left) and Town Attorney, Steve Briglia, for their work to forge this landmark agreement.
Mayor Colbert (shown at left, center) lauded the Town’s decision to purchase the acreage as “extremely exciting” and a “great opportunity.”
“We’re lucky to have this,” Councilmember Springsteen (shown at left, left) added, enumerating obvious benefits of the property to the Town, including, “a full-size gym, home for the police, there’s parking spaces, there’s athletic potential. You just can’t replicate this.”
Councilmember Somers further highlighted the public safety benefit to the Town: “the police station will still be able to have a forward-facing presence in the sense that citizens will be able to enter the facility and engage with the police in times of need or for any other questions.” Vienna Police Chief Morris, joining remotely, confirmed Somers’ statement. “The alternative we were looking at--there would have been no business hours. This way we can adjust business hours; and people can make appointments, can come in, and we’ll still remain part of the community, basically, in the heart of all the activity.” Councilwoman Patel agrees. “I think it's a great location, and I’m really happy that the police department has a new location while their station is being constructed.”
Plans to temporarily relocate the police operations to a residential property at 440 Beulah Road were being considered. “I think that those neighbors will be happy that we’re not going there,” Mayor Colbert (shown right, signing the contract for sale) shared through a warm smile. A special-use permit would have been required in order to move operations there, according to Deputy Planning and Zoning Director Michael D’Orazio. The purchase of the church property allows continuity of operations in virtually the same location and affords access to the same parking and other amenities beneficial to the police operations.
Acknowledging the “immediate public safety benefit and the ongoing public uses” of the transaction, Pastor Mathews added, “with the passion we have to love and serve and help Vienna, it actually enables us to do a better job of that. I think that’s going to bring another layer of benefit to the Town. We’re extremely excited and very thankful.” The church has organized over 15,000 volunteer community service hours over the past 12 years alone, bringing in students from states as far away as Tennessee and Kansas to help serve Vienna and the surrounding areas. “Freeing up man-hours and funds by letting go of this building will give us an opportunity to have so much more impact in the coming years,” the pastor added.
Councilman Anderson remarked, “they’ve obviously been an important part of our community.” “It’s bittersweet whenever a house of faith decides to move into a new way of operating, and I wish them the best of success for the future,” Anderson notes, emphasizing the shift in focus of the congregation that Pastor Mathews describes as a move from “come-sit-see” to “go-tell-be.” The congregation, according to the Town Attorney, will lease back a portion of the building and use it for their weekly gatherings concurrently with the Police use of the property through January, 2021.
The 3-acre property includes a 24,000 sqft building, adjoins the current location of the historic Bowman house, and shares a long border with the Vienna Police Department. The church had previously sold to the Town a portion of their land on Locust Street SW, which adjoined the Vienna Police Department, thus creating the opportunity to expand the station. Construction is slated to begin later this year.
The Town Attorney reported to the council that the acquisition is scheduled to settle on September 18 for a final price of $5.5M plus $5,000 for settlement costs. The significance and value of this opportunity is illuminated by Paula Thompson of Tysons Realty: "this is the highest price for a church in Vienna's history." The funding, according to Finance Director, Marion Serfass, comes from the $4M municipal bond issued earlier this year, along with the $3M premium to “make up the difference.” The Town Manager added that the bond and the purchase was “part of our 2020 CIP-Capital Improvement Plan process,” adding that having the bond funds available would give the Town “the wherewithal” to make the purchase.
As for the future of the property, Councilmember Potter calls it “an ideal location” with “huge potential for multiple options.” Addressing the online audience of Vienna residents directly, Councilwoman Patel was careful to say, “This is the Town’s property, meaning It’s your property. And so, as town residents, I really hope that you guys ... provide us with feedback as to what you would like to see go in that space eventually, after its temporary use, because there are probably some really great ideas out there.” An upcoming feasibility study will “help guide us into what the options are,” Mayor Colbert assured. “It’s going to be a great way for our town to come together and plan a community amenity together.”