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County to consider scaled-back vision for housing at Idylwood church site

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church is seeking to sell part of its property in Idylwood, including a now-vacant building, to a housing developer so it can expand its sanctuary (via Google Maps)

Plans to build housing in front of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Idylwood have been resurrected.

After a previous attempt in 2019 sputtered out, the church has found a new developer partner to potentially buy vacant portions of its property at 7426 Idylwood Road and transform it with residential development.

The developer EYA submitted an initial pitch to Fairfax County last summer for approximately 65 to 75 townhouses that would be constructed on two parcels of the roughly 10.7-acre site, an EYA marketing manager told FFXnow. The church intends to stay and use the money from the land sale to fund an expansion of its building, which was built in 1968, per county records.

“EYA is interested in the site for townhome development given its proximity to nearby established retail amenities, Tysons Corner and the City of Falls Church for work and shopping, and a direct bus connection to the West Falls Church Metro Station,” EYA said in a statement. “…We look forward to continuing to engage with the community, staff and elected officials as we develop our plan for this site.”

EYA’s proposal revives a development plan filed in March 2019 by Toll Mid-Atlantic LP Company, an affiliate of the Delaware-based home builder Toll Brothers.

According to that application, St. Paul’s wanted to sell part of its property to pay for a “family life center” that was approved in 2005 but never constructed “due to financial constraints.” The church consists of a main sanctuary with an attached educational building, though it also owns a separate, now-vacant building that once housed Lutheran Social Services.

Toll Mid-Atlantic sought to replace the empty building and another undeveloped parcel — totaling about 5.85 acres — with 67 residential units, which would’ve been a combination of single-family townhomes and two-over-two multi-family units.

The county’s land use database indicates that the application was scheduled for a public hearing before the Fairfax County Planning Commission multiple times, most recently on Sept. 30, 2020, but it ultimately got deferred indefinitely.

To allow for EYA’s development, the county needs to revise its comprehensive plan for the site, which currently designates the entire church property as a future residential development with 16-20 dwelling units per acre.

With the church committed to remaining at the site, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed county staff on Tuesday (Feb. 20) to craft a plan amendment that would reduce the intensity of the housing envisioned for the site.

“Recognizing that the Church wishes to remain on site, and this impacts the available area for development and the design of the site, a Plan amendment for residential development at a lower density, with suitable conditions related to site design, recognizing retention of the existing Church, is appropriate,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said when introducing the request.

Recalling the previous attempt to develop the site, she added that “transportation improvements and others are key to this development.”

The proposed amendment will be added to the second tier of the county’s comprehensive plan amendment work program, meaning it will be reviewed concurrently with rezoning and special permit amendment applications. Submitted on June 27, 2023, EYA’s proposal is still in the “pre-application” stage, so it’s unclear when an official plan will be available.

According to a summary report from the Department of Planning and Development, the initial concept tweaks Toll Mid-Atlantic’s earlier design to allow for more open space and tree preservation. It also features a recommended sidewalk along Idylwood Road and commits to replenishing landscaping that screens the church from existing townhouses to the south.

Image via Google Maps

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