VIENNA, Va.—”A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the town.” That’s what Councilmember Chuck Anderson called the recent move by the town of Vienna to purchase the three acres on Center Street that Faith Baptist Church has called home for its lifetime. The congregation celebrates its 68th year of service to Vienna later this month. The church has spent nearly all of that time on its current property, purchased around 1952 from the Bowman family, whose historic house was also the town’s first school.
Faith Baptist’s three-acre property in the center of town includes a 24,000-square-foot 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 the church’s land that adjoined the Vienna Police Department, thus creating the opportunity for the station to expand. The police department will now relocate to the church for one or two years while constructing a new station. Construction is slated to begin later this year.
The police department had previously planned to temporarily relocate its operations to a residential property. “I think that those neighbors will be happy that we’re not going there,” Mayor Linda Colbert shared through a warm smile during the council meeting Aug. 31. 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.
Councilmember Ed Somers highlighted the public safety benefit to the town through the purchase: “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 James Morris, joining the meeting remotely, confirmed Somers’s 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.” Councilmember 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.”
Mayor Colbert lauded the town’s decision to purchase the property as “extremely exciting” and a “great opportunity.”
After the police station is constructed, the town will determine how to use the property in the future. Councilmember Steve Potter calls it “an ideal location” with “huge potential for multiple options.” Councilmember Howard Springsteen enumerated the property’s further benefits to the town, including a full-size gym, parking spaces, and athletics potential. “You just can’t replicate this,” he said.
Addressing the online audience of Vienna residents directly, CouncilmemberPatel was careful to say, “This is the town’s property, meaning it’s your property.” She urged the town’s residents to give the council “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.”
David Mathews, pastor of Faith Baptist Church for 12 years, said at the meeting, “This is a wonderful thing for the town,” echoing the sentiments expressed by all seven members of the council, three 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 and Town Attorney Steve Briglia for their work to forge this landmark agreement.
Acknowledging the “immediate public safety benefit and the ongoing public uses” of the transaction, 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.” Over the past 12 years alone, the church has organized over 15,000 volunteer community service hours, 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.
Faith Baptist Church has “obviously been an important part of our community,” Councilmember Chuck Anderson remarked. “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,” he noted, emphasizing the church’s shift in focus that Mathews describes as a move from “come-sit-see” to “go-tell-be.” Through January 2021, the church will lease back a portion of the building and use it for the congregation’s weekly gatherings concurrently with the police department’s use of the property.
According to the town attorney, the acquisition is scheduled to settle on Sept. 18 for a final price of $5.5 million plus $5,000 for settlement costs. Pauline Thompson of Tysons Realty illuminates the significance and value of this opportunity: “This is the highest price for a church in Vienna’s history.” Marion Serfass, finance director for the town of Vienna, says the funding comes from the $4 million municipal bond issued to the town earlier this year, along with the $3 million premium to make up the difference. Town Manager Mercury Payton added that the bond and purchase were “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.