Housing Complex

The Most Expensive Parking Spaces in the City?

Should these houses be razed for seven parking spots? (Lydia DePillis)

Religious building projects often take forever to come to fruition–churches aren't developers, after all, and they do have a more expansive timeline. The Third Street Church of God in the Mount Vernon Historic District is no different. It's been trying to do something with its properties on New Jersey Avenue for a decade now, and has been thwarted at every turn: First there was a plan for an old rowhouse directly to the south, but neighbors wouldn't agree to a necessary easement, so that project died and the Church sold the properties. Then, they tried to build on 4th Street, but the District wouldn't allow them to demolish the existing buildings, so they gave up on that idea too.

In September 2009, Pastor Cheryl Sanders thought she had a winner, when the Historic Preservation Review Board and a host of other agencies signed off on plans for a new administrative building right next to the church. Permits are still pending for that project. The problem is, it would take away about half of the roughly 30 parking spaces they currently have. So now, Sanders is applying to raze three decrepit rowhouses that the church has owned for 20 years, which would yield an additional five to seven spaces for their congregation.

The neighbors—highly sensitive to the issue of vacant properties, the deadening effect of surface parking lots, and demolition by neglect—are incredulous. 

"I don't know what your theology is, but there's a crying need for housing in this city," said one ANC commissioner at a planning and zoning committee meeting last night.

"It sounds like hoarding to me," said another. "If they're not being used as housing, I think that shouldn't be condoned, and we shouldn't look the other way."

Sanders' frustration is understandable: The church has put a lot of time and money into finding a way to secure more space. The houses are in pretty bad shape, but the Historic Preservation Office is saying that they can probably still be preserved. Meanwhile, the vacant property tax just kicked in—tax records show that the church paid about $16,000 on the houses over the last year.

"Yes, it is true, we did not restore them. But we had to set some priorities in terms of he other major expenditures," said a defensive Sanders. "The only answer that I can give to that is that as a church, we have limited resources."

The Mount Vernon Triangle of 2011, though, is not the Mount Vernon Triangle of 1991. Those houses would fetch a goodly sum—say $600,000—which could then be used to lease parking spaces nearby and shuttle parishioners to worship, as one community member pointed out. By asking to raze them, the church is effectively asking to pay $100,000 per space, which is quite a lot.

ANC 6C's planning and zoning committee overwhelmingly voted to deny the raze application, which will go before the HPRB at its June meeting.

  • Si Kailian

    One important fact is that their current parking lot is non-comforming and encroaches on public space. So the new addition is going to knock out a relatively low number of legal spaces. This is also the reason that razing the houses will only gain 5-7 spaces.

    The church was a multiple vacant property offender but in recent years has worked well with the community and sold a lot of their vacant property. This has also facilitated the $ for renovating their sanctuary and the future addition to the auxiliary building. I do hope they get their permits soon and progress with that project.

  • Paul

    >> "Yes, it is true, we did not restore them. But we had to set some priorities in terms of he other major expenditures," said a defensive Sanders. "The only answer that I can give to that is that as a church, we have limited resources."

    No one twisted their arm to horde properties in the first place. So I fail to see why they need to be given special consideration because they are churches.

  • http://www.hickorytech411.com residential listings

    I definitely agree with this post. Great input!

  • W Jordan

    While this is a legitimate issue, there is a lot of bias around the issue. There are many developers in this city who have land banked property for years. Then turned to the city for tax abatements and got them to support sitting on properties. And hardly a peep. In fact used them as parking lots in the interim or equipment storage. The difference is the big boys are land banking to yuppie ghettos and churches folk fear will build affordable housing for working class families.

  • Si Kailian

    totally agree, i dont support tax breaks for slumbanking developers or churches. DC has been better about clamping down on small vacant property owners but the big ones like Jemal get pass after pass.

    The church wasnt asking for any special consideration, it was all pretty straightforward.

  • hillman

    Do the parishioners even live in DC anymore? Are we as taxpayers being asked to subsidize their development by making their venture tax free?

    A developer at least pays taxes on the development at some point.

    If their congregation isn't really in the neighborhood anymore maybe their limited budget means they'd be better off selling this very expensive real estate and relocating to a cheaper location.

  • Lily

    The article is a little unfair to the city agencies, which approved a couple of different expansion projects for the church over the past several years. Meanwhile, the church has owned and not maintained these buildings for about two decades.

    The church ultimately sold several of their other properties because they were not permitted to tear them down.

  • Scott

    There really is no reason for the churches to have parking lots for their parishoners. Businesses and many residents have no parking avilable and we get along just fine by using metro, bus, bikes, and walking to get where we need to go. These churces would be much better off providing a shuttle from various metro stops to get their parishoners to and from services. The Bethany Baptist church on 10th and N Streets NW is hoarding three parking lots on residential streets which sit completely empty on Sundays because their congregation is so small they don't need any parking yet they now lease out the spaces for weekday business hour parking. The traffic, trash, and noise on our residential streets has increased due to the MD and VA drivers who park there and then walk to work. How is this fair? They now earn money from illegal parking lots and pay no taxes on these. The churches should start being good citizens and sell or develop their abandonded properties so that we get people living in them again. No home should ever be destroyed by these churches so that they can get a parking lot to lease out and destroy our neighborhoods.

  • ed_finnerty

    The financial calculation is wrong. After demolishing the houses the church will still own the land. Don't know how much a building site goes for in that neighbourhood but their is nothing to prevent them from eventually ddisposing to the properties a recovering money/

  • MadWard7Resident

    @hillman

    Do the parishioners even live in DC anymore?
    -Why should it matter if they live in DC or Not??
    A church has member from all areas of the community!-

    If their congregation isn't really in the neighborhood anymore maybe their limited budget means they'd be better off selling this very expensive real estate and relocating to a cheaper location.
    -Who are you say that the church should move....you are rude to utter this statement. You much be one of the churches nasty neighbors. Maybe if you would visit the church and talk to the pastor, you would have a different view!-

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