Plans to fast-track demolition of Clarendon Presbyterian Church and replace it with affordable housing could run into headwinds, if neighbors who want the century-old-in-2024 church building retained can convince the county government’s historic-preservation body to get involved.
The matter was very briefly brought up at the Oct. 18 meeting of the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board, when a resident of Lyon Village turned up to put the proposed redevelopment on the body’s radar.
As has been the case with several other congregations across Arlington over the past decade, leaders of Clarendon Presbyterian – located on several parcels in the 1300 block of North Jackson Street – are aiming to partner with a housing provider (in this case the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, known as APAH) to develop the parcel that would include a modernized but smaller church space; a slightly expanded child-care facility; and housing for seniors with a specific focus on the LGBT community.
To make all that happen, the church in June requested that the county government move forward on a change to the General Land Use Plan as it applies to the site. “This redevelopment project will make a major stride in the Arlington Affordable Housing Master Plan goal towards housing for lower-income seniors, will protect a much needed existing child-care center and will launch Clarendon Presbyterian Church into being a hub of community connection, support and advocacy well into the future,” church officials say.
But current plans envision demolition of the existing church building, constructed in 1924 and expanded in 1947.
The church, and the broader Lyon Park community, have no formal historic status with the county government, giving HALRB members no authority over what happens there. But the community, including the church, is part of the Virginia Landmarks Register (included in 2001) and National Register of Historic Places (2002).
The nomination for the latter designation specifically mentioned the church, noting the Colonial Revival-style detailing on the building that includes denticulated entablature, raked bargeboard, stone casings and a round stained-glass window with a soldier-course surround.
But that same document may undercut the effort to save the building, as it notes that the 1947 expansion obscured many of the original details and left the building in an “irregular form.”
Outside of the slim likelihood of cajoling church leaders and APAH to retain the building, advocates for its preservation likely would have to have the site nominated as a local historic district. That would start the ball rolling on a process that, ultimately, could provide some protections.
But such a move would seem to be a long-shot.
In recent years, County Board members largely have opted not to move forward on historic designations unless the property owner was in favor of it. In one notorious case – that of the Rouse estate on Wilson Boulevard – County Board members kept the matter in limbo long enough for the property owner to move bulldozers in and flatten everything.
Although plans for the Clarendon Presbyterian parcel have been circulating for months, the issue did seem to catch some of the HALRB members by surprise. County historic-preservation personnel said that while the Oct. 18 meeting was not the right time to discuss it, the matter could be brought up later.