Why Shiloh Baptist Church Hangs On to Those Vacant Properties
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.