Housing Complex

Why Shiloh Baptist Church Hangs On to Those Vacant Properties

The one that got away.

Shiloh Baptist Church hasn't made many friends in Shaw by keeping a string of five properties on 9th Street NW north of P Street—now prime real estate in the fast-changing neighborhood—vacant for about a decade. The neighbors might not even mind as much if the church were at least open about their plans for the property, but they've been totally opaque (and, needless to say, haven't ever returned my calls or emails).

At Wednesday night's Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2C's meeting, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs vacant property unit chief Reuben Pemberton detailed the church's delinquence, and got an earful outside when his presentation ended from churchgoers who thought he was singling them out. "There are vacant properties all over the city!" one huffed. "It's not just Shiloh."

Pemberton tried to tell them that the neighbors were getting restless. "If there is a plan, I would suggest moving forward with it," he said. "At the end of the day, you're losing money here." And how! In 2011 alone, they were taxed at the vacant rate, which came to about $325,000 for all five combined (it would have been similar the previous year, but there was no vacant tax rate in 2010 while the D.C. Council was futzing with the law).

So why doesn't Shiloh just sell them? I asked outreach minister Thomas Bowen whether there was a plan, and was told sternly by Holland & Knight super-lawyer Chip Glasgow that I'd know just as soon as everybody else. But the church dropped a hint in September 2010, when they "broke ground" on a community services center—it took another year to actually get started—and talked of building an education and conference center at 1526-28 9th Street, and senior housing at 1532-36.

They're missing one property in the middle: 1530.

That still belongs to brothers Michael and Reuben Marks, whose family has operated an electrical service there for 30 years now. Michael says that Shiloh's approached them on and off over the past decade, but never made a firm offer. "It's too many people that you deal with. You may deal with one group of people this year, and another group of people next year," he says. "Between that time, they come up with a different plan, different price, then you never hear anything from them."

And they need a really good price to leave—Marks isn't ready to give up the business yet, and relocating is expensive. So they wait, while Shiloh decides what to do.

  • W6 Rulz

    tommy wells will save this and make it all better and martin moulton will have a total cream dream and run around his new dog park while pretending to be a mpd officer and screaming about medical pot and leroy thorpe. what a sight to see.

  • http://facebook.com/UStreetNW U Street Buzz

    It's long past time for this church to help their neighborhood* out and either build something or sell.

    *or former neighborhood, as most of them moved out years ago.

  • er

    they have a right to hold on to the property. and as an institution that is not going anywhere, and maybe expanding, it might be a smart choice.
    that said, if i was a neighbor it would annoy me.

  • Emiliano Ruprah

    Why not write an article about church properties in general...the Churches in DC seem empty these days...thats some prime real estate

  • E.R.

    Agreed...16th street looks like a planning model its so empty.

  • jimbo

    If you are part of Gray's ONE (chocolate) CITY you can flout anything. Saint Tommy Wells has a record of folding like a lawn chair in the face of DC churches that cater to the PG crowd.

  • Drez

    Shiloh is notoriously disorganized and riven by infighting.
    Grand dreams, little follow through.
    Pride goeth before,
    & Etc.

  • Ehren

    Maybe by keeping the properties, it is a misguided and too-little, too-late scorched-earth approach to keeping whitey out of the 'hood? As in, maybe there are some in the church leadership who would rather see the properties boarded up, than sold so evil rich white folks can build condos there?

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  • a few blocks over

    The most annoying part is that the majority of the church goers don't even live in the neighborhood and come in from outside of DC and park all over...

  • Wilhelm Ogle

    How long can a property remain vacant and not be considered abandoned? If the church isn't going to use it then someone needs to consider using eminent domain and do something.

  • Ward 6 Resident

    Not to worry. The church will soon fall behind on its taxes and the properties will be sold to pay off debts as the shrinking congregation dies off and the church's income dries up. Just have faith in the Lord. He will find a way to support the neighborhood residents.

  • W

    @Ehren

    it's not just whitey, it's successful Ethiopian businessmen, and young black or mixed-race entrepreneurs. But any and all of those potential developers are not involved with or particularly interested in SBC. I'm not sure the motive you attribute is what's going on inside SBC, but I expect the old guard at SBC wouldn't warmly receive offers to sell to any of the people most likely to have the resources to buy at fair market value.

  • Charles

    @W6 Rulz Yeah Andrew, WE are getting OUR dog park for which hundreds of people signed a petition a couple of years back. It's going to be very popular with the many dog owners in the eastern part of Shaw. It's coming to fruition now, no thanks to Evans.

  • Powa Broka

    1. Fuuulz write what they don't know. Bigger Fuuulz read it and believe it. If you want to know what's up with SBC, stop in, take a look, ask. 2. Tell city paper to update their photo. The one up top has to be three+ years old.
    3. Anybody runnin' their mouth been on that block in the past five years? 'suggest you look closer at the mess across the street, where the good neighbor folks are happy to live. Stroll down their alley - any day. When you get that trash cleaned up, come back and look at SBC. 4. Don't be no Fuuul,...know what you talk!

  • bloomingdalian

    @ "Powa Broka" - Pardon, but what language are you trying to imitate?

  • Ray Milefsky

    Been here 26 years.

    Shiloh's motto on those properties is "I have a scheme." Some sham operation that always involves getting bags of spread-around gubmint money, then spending it quick lest anything gets built. As poverticians of the first rank, Shiloh keeps all those vacant properties run down run-down and target for funding. The Great Game, however, is over.

    Shiloh thinks they'll eventually get over all those detractors to their scam operations. I'm only grateful they sold off their properties at the intersection of Eighth and Q. What a grand metamorphosis. But the vacant properties are the last hold-out.

    Shiloh and the Park Service (forever trying to figure out what Carter G. Woodson did in his lifetime [hint: look at Wikipedia] before they turn his house and two properties they bought from Shiloh for 1.4 million into a museum of some sorts) are vying to see how long they can keep Shaw a historic slum before the neighbors of every hue revolt with pickets.

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