By Peter Glaser, Alexandria (File photo)
To the editor:
What an astonishing display by the Board of Architectural Review at its November 16 meeting, where the mega- church expansion project of the Alfred Street Baptist Church was considered (“BAR backs Alfred Street Baptist Church concept,” November 24).
These board members niggled with small shop owners over the size and color of their signage, but when it came to a proposal to raze 11 townhouses to clear the way for the construction of what would be the largest building in Old Town, the board saw no fundamental problem.
Residents were treated to one board member giving a shout out to the developer’s attorney and another expressing gratitude for the developer’s bogus parking plans even after the chairman admonished neighborhood speakers that parking was irrelevant to the board’s mission.
Worst of all, the board’s central charge is to consider whether the “height, mass and scale” of a proposed development is compatible with the surrounding area, yet neither the board, its staff or the developer’s consultants even tried to explain how a structure that encompasses a full city block in a residential neighborhood can possibly meet this standard.
This all occurred despite residents providing graphics showing that the new edifice would dwarf such large commercial corridor buildings as City Hall, the city courthouse and even the Torpedo Factory. It was as if board members decided that the only way to deal with the elephant in the room was to pretend that it didn’t exist.
But in the end, the elephant cannot be ignored. The church wants to build a sanctuary whose seating capacity would rival that of the Kennedy Center. It wants to build an attached office building and associated community facility for people who overwhelmingly do not live in the city.
And with a membership of more than 7,000 parishioners and a commitment to growth, there is no end in sight. The church performs many good works, but its decision to become a mega-church means it should follow the example of the First Baptist Church and locate the expansion project to a much larger site outside of the historic district.
Certainly the historic church can and should remain at its current location. And whatever one feels about the church’s decision to build this gigantic project in a residential community, the board’s shocking failure to even acknowledge the remarks of a parade of neighborhood speakers on this point left us all feeling that the hearing was nothing more than window-dressing for a predetermined result.