By Carla Branch

Fairlington Presbyterian Church / Wesley Housing rendering of housing design (courtesy image)

The Alexandria City Council on Nov. 17, unanimously approved an 81-unit multifamily affordable housing project, which will be built on Fairlington Presbyterian Church property in partnership with Wesley Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing developer. Council also approved a loan from the City’s Housing Opportunity Fund of up to $7.65 million for the project.

Wesley Housing, an established regional non-profit affordable housing developer with three properties in Alexandria—Beverly Park, Lynhaven, and Parcview—proposes to construct an 81- unit affordable housing project on part of an underutilized rear parking lot serving Fairlington Presbyterian Church. The project will help address the City’s critical shortage of affordable housing (approximately 15,500 low- to moderate-low income renter households pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs in the City) and loss of more than 16,500 market affordable units since 2000, by providing new, long term affordable housing options to households earning between 40% and 60% of the area median income. Per Wesley’s proposal, nine of the units will be affordable to households at 40% AMI, 35 will be affordable at 50% AMI, and 37 will be affordable at 60% AMI. The majority of units will be family-sized with two to three bedrooms, and approximately nine will be fully accessible. The units will be committed as affordable housing for 40 years.

In addition to an onsite property management office, building amenities feature on-site laundry, a community room, landscaped open space, and underground vehicle and bicycle parking. Residents will have access to bus service along King Street and be served by a new bus shelter on Menokin Drive. As part of the redevelopment, an existing playground will be relocated to the front of the Church.

The total development cost for the affordable housing building and related infrastructure improvements is estimated to be around $38.2 million. Wesley Housing has requested a loan of up to $7.65 million from the City’s Housing Opportunities Fund; this loan amount includes a predevelopment loan approved by City Council in June 2017. Other funding sources include approximately $20 million in 9% low income housing tax credit equity from the federal government administered through Virginia Housing Development Authority, a $9 million first trust loan, and $1.6 million in deferred developer fees.

The Alexandria Housing Affordable Advisory Committee unanimously approved Wesley Housing’s loan request at its October 4th meeting. Wesley Housing plans to apply for competitive low-income housing tax credits in March 2019. If successful in obtaining credits, the project would be constructed for delivery by the end of 2022.

Project History

In 2016, the elected lay leadership of Fairlington Presbyterian Church began a Request for Proposals process to identify an experienced development partner to redevelop a portion of the church site to provide affordable housing as a continuation of the Church’s mission in the community and selected Wesley Housing Development Corporation. Wesley Housing and the Church congregation engaged in an internal design discussion to identify guiding principles for the redevelopment of the church site, including:

  • A design which was conducive to all church uses and desires inside and outside the building and would support the Waldorf school pedagogy
  • Space to enable outdoor worship and social gatherings
  • Sufficient parking to support all on-site functions
  • To keep all children, families, residents, guests and church users safe and establish a design which fosters safety
  • Maintain playground and greenspace with an effort to maximize trees and use landscaping to screen the site  and
  • Site circulation which optimizes pedestrian and vehicular safety and efficient pick-up and drop-off for all users.

After developing these guiding principles, Wesley Housing and the church submitted a plan for the proposed multi-family building to City staff in early 2017. Active community engagement began in May 2017 with an initial community meeting to introduce the project. Subsequent submissions continued to refine the site and building design based on feedback from the community and City staff, including:

  • Revisions to site circulation to separate church and school vehicular traffic from residential traffic on-site 
  • Relocation of curb cuts along Menokin Drive to reduce potential vehicular congestion at the intersection of N. Van Dorn Street and Menokin Drive
  • Adjustment of the building footprint to create a more uniform “U” shape resulting in the creation of a formal courtyard and streamlining of parking lot design to improve traffic flow
  • Relocation of multi-family lobby and formal entrance from Menokin Drive to face the church and create a more active building dialogue between the two structures
  • Installation of two loading spaces on the surface parking lot for the multi-family building to prevent temporary on-street parking on Menokin Drive
  • Polling of the community and church members to select final building colors of a red brick and white panel and
  • Simplification of the building design and window patterns for a design compatible with neighboring architectural styles.

Fairlington Presbyterian Church was founded in 1947 and the church building was consecrated in 1955. Programming at Fairlington Presbyterian Church includes a pre-K through 5th grade Waldorf school, mission activities, religious education for children and adults, and worship services. The church also shares their space with smaller congregations without permanent places of worship, including the Covenant Life Church and Latino and Ethiopian congregations.