St. Charles Church of Clarendon seeks County feedback on initial designs

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Clarendon has filed concept plans for a new three-story church and parish center and 10-story apartment building.

The mid-century church sits on two and a half acres of prime property between Clarendon and Virginia Square tube stations, much of it dedicated to parking.

According to the proposal, which has been in the works for a few years now, the 429-apartment building will have a courtyard in the center, a rooftop swimming pool and amenities on the ground floor. The church will be connected to the parish center, with meeting rooms and event space, by cloister gardens.

The parking lot will move underground and the two structures will be connected by an improved driveway. Fairfax Drive will be redeveloped into a pedestrian plaza, and there will be a new “West End Plaza” located across from the church on county-owned land.

But the plans include design elements that could conflict with the streetscape design guidelines stipulated by Clarendon’s sector plan update adopted earlier this year. For this reason, the church is seeking the perspective of county planning staff.

“The applicant seeks the county’s comments on the proposed concept plan and in particular wishes to discuss various recommendations from the Clarendon Area Plan relating to ground floor transparency, unobstructed walkways and grade of sidewalks”, by a letter to the county included in the filings. “Existing site conditions and the programmatic needs of the proposed religious institutional use may make it difficult to fully realize some of the sector plan recommendations related to streetscape design.”

In other words, some elements of the proposed St. Charles Church – which reflect a centuries-old tradition of church architecture – may not align with the sector plan design guidelines for facades along the Washington Boulevard and Fairfax Drive.

The streetscape guidelines, aimed at creating an attractive walking experience, require sidewalks and store entrances to be flush with no steps, and storefronts to have predominantly transparent windows unobstructed by shutters. blinds, fabrics and shelves. These are characterized by the streetscapes of The Crossing Clarendon shopping centre.

Former Iota Club space at The Crossing Clarendon (staff photo)

“Transparency is a key factor influencing the pedestrian experience: visual access, views to and from interior spaces, and interesting storefront lighting and displays add visual interest and opportunities for surveillance. informal public spaces”, according to the sector plan.

Like many Roman Catholic churches throughout history, renderings of St. Charles show an exterior staircase, doorways, and a hall (narthex) separating the sanctuary from the casual pedestrian view.

The facades, meanwhile, include stained glass windows, which usually depict biblical stories and saints. These embellishments are not to pedestrian scale; rather, they follow the architectural tradition of drawing the eye upward to help the worshiper gaze up at the sky.

While the county is reviewing the designs, the church is hiring a developer partner on board, according to a September church newsletter. The church will lease the land under the proposed apartment building to the developer to fund the project.

“We continue to refine our cost estimates for the project, but anticipate that most of our total costs will be covered by the proceeds of a long-term lease with our development partner,” Pastor Don Planty writes in the update. “Parishioners will be asked to contribute to help cover immediate financial needs during planning and in support of sacred art for the new St. Charles Church.”

Planty said the planning team estimates additional planning, rights and permissions will take two years, followed by another two years for construction.

Renderings of St. Charles Catholic Church in Clarendon (via Arlington County)