Letter to the Editor: Senior living project benefits church, Tenleytown community

Wisconsin Avenue Baptist Church is located at 3920 Alton Place NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/October 2017)

The Wisconsin Avenue Baptist Church has been part of Tenleytown for over a century and wants to remain at its current site on Tenley Circle NW. As a house of worship, it also has for years quietly provided English as a Second Language classes, summer programs for children and youth, a welcome to international friends, and at various times community programs ranging from preschool to assistance for asylum seekers.

After buying the site 70 years ago, the church built two initial stages of a much larger facility in the early 1950s but lacked resources to complete the plan. The proposed project with Sunrise Senior Living provides the means not only for the congregation to remain on site and replace its aging building, but also to expand its ministries. In addition, it will provide needed capacity for residents needing assisted living to remain near friends and family in their own community.

The project, shown here from Tenley Circle NW, includes a four-story assisted-living facility and a new church. (rendering courtesy of Sunrise Senior Living)

We respectfully disagree with how some neighbors in opposition are characterizing this project, and believe that when completed it will enhance the neighborhood with a beautiful building that complements the scale of those across the circle at St. Ann’s and the Washington College of Law. The project will include landscaping and ensure perpetual maintenance of adjacent National Park Service land. Unfortunately, a letter opposing the proposal in the Nov. 1 issue of The Current contained inaccuracies, such as wrongly stating that Sunrise employees couldn’t use the underground garage (thus impacting street parking).

Change is difficult. The church is dealing with the reality that the useful life of its current building has come to an end. It could partner with another religious institution to build a much larger building without community or advisory neighborhood commission approval. However, the blending of assisted-living facilities with a new church would be smaller than the allowed “by right” religious building, and have less impact on the daily life of the surrounding neighborhood. More importantly, it will offer senior care services the community needs — while providing resources for a church that has been part of the community for over a century to remain, and to expand its services.

Our congregation is not willing to abandon either our mission or our site, and hopes to continue a rational discussion of the project. We hope the discussion will be factual, civil and committed to securing the best outcomes for the whole community.

The Rev. Lynn Bergfalk, Pastor, Wisconsin Avenue Baptist Church