Sunday, October 26, 2008

Parking Wars Continued

Many people likely recall the "parking wars" that have plagued the Logan Circle neighborhood over the past several years. A quick primer goes something like this: Logan is home to both a goodly number of residents and a goodly number of churches. Since many of these churches are located along otherwise residential blocks, parking on Sundays (and other days, depending upon the schedule of the church) can be a bit messy. OK, sometimes more than a bit. It's not uncommon to drive along R St., 13th St., Vermont Ave. and other streets on Sunday mornings and see a number of cars blocking alleys, driveways, intersections, handicapped ramps, and so on.

Things kind of simmered around for a while, then came close to blowing up during this past year as annoyed/angry residents began pushing the city to enforce parking laws, and church parishioners believed they were being singled out. The city responded by acting all crazy-like and issuing a statement that said, of all things, they were actually going to start enforcing existing parking laws--for everybody.

Recently, it seems that a problem has arisen with the Vermont Baptist Church and a vacant parcel of land at the southeastern corner of R and Vermont. The parcel is owned by the church, and is only "vacant" due to the fact that several years ago the church illegally tore down a structure that once sat on the premises. The parcel has sat empty ever since, home to a half-assed community garden of some sort and some haphazardly strewn rocks. That was, until recently, when the church began to use it as a parking pad for attendees of their Sunday services.

This bit of activity did not go unnoticed by ANC2F CDC member Joel Heisey, who raised the issue at last week's CDC meeting as an addition to the agenda. Heisey's issue is essentially as follows: Vermont Avenue Baptist illegally tore down the structure that existed on the parcel and should not be permitted to benefit from that illegal activity; in addition, Heisey argued that parking accommodations for the church have been made, including turning Vermont Ave. into a one-way street in front of the church. Heisey urged the CDC to send a letter to Mayor Adrian Fenty's office, Ward 2 council member Jack Evans, and DCRA to notify them of the illegal use of the parcel by the church and to enforce parking laws there as necessary.

Now, in my opinion this raises a couple of interesting issues. First and foremost, we're back to the question of how/when parking regulations should be enforced. I strongly supported the city's earlier position to enforce all existing parking laws equally, and I think that standard should be upheld here as well. But the undercurrent of this issue is the role that neighborhood groups such as the CDC should play with regards to relationships with neighborhood entities such as the Church, which caters predominantly to parishioners who do not reside in the Logan area. To be sure, no one should be viewed as above the law, and cries for preferential treatment on the part of the churches ring hollow to me--so long as your church is located in the District, you should abide by the District's rules. But what benefit is it to the neighborhood to demand that the lot in question be reverted back to a vacant parcel of land, which is seemingly the goal of the CDC action?

If parking is--and will continue to be--an issue for the churches in that area of the city, would not a reasonable response be to notify the city of the illegal use of the parcel by the church, while also notifying the church of the due process which could be embarked upon to permit the use of the lot as a parking pad going forward? Dismissing the Church as unwilling to participate in a process to legally use the space, while not even approaching the church regarding the matter--as was the case at the meeting--smacks of unnecessarily treating the Church as a combatant in this issue. In addition, I have to wonder what the city's response to the CDC request will be seeing as how no attempt to contact the Church has been made.

Now, most likely, little will come of this issue--parking enforcement remains notoriously lax throughout Logan--so it's hard to see this issue picking up much steam. But it seems that a better process could be put in place to deal with such issues in the future. If the church is non-responsive or combative, so be it. At a minimum, it would behoove the neighborhood to attempt to work with--not in opposition to--area entities such as the Church when attempting to resolve dicey issues such as parking rights and enforcement.


IMGoph said...

isn't at least one of the large churches in the area planning to move out to the suburbs in the near future (i believe it was metropolitan baptist?) if so, how do you think that would help alleviate the parking situation on sundays?

Mr. Other Upper NW said...

I don't know that the move is certain, but I have heard rumblings that Metropolitan Baptist is considering a move out to PG County, where a majority of their parishioners are located. I think such a move could have a tremendous impact on Logan parking, because metropolitan has a significant congregation. If nothing else, it would be an end to those infernal "Reserved Parking" signs they like to put out on Saturdays.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite pasttimes is, when nobody is looking, to take down the orange cones that they stick in the street to make parking spaces, thereby allowing people to use the street as, you know, the street.

Anonymous said...

These aren't hoopties being driven to church -- they're mercedes and benzes. It's not like these churchgoers are poor and disadvantaged.

Maybe they should take the metro and walk the three blocks from U st like everyone else. Save the environment and get a little exercise.

Mr. Other Upper NW said...

Anon, no kidding. I don't know what efforts the churches have made to encourage public transportation usage by its members, but it's not as if this neighborhood is inaccessible by Metro.

Anonymous said...

I saw the other day that the housse next to the uber-loud church at 15/S was having an open house...I wonder if the sellers disclosed the god-awful high noise levels and the fact that they block off half the street so their CUSTOMERS can double park on 15th street.

Anonymous said...

I guess the church can do no right. They provide off-street parking, that doesn't interfere with neighbors' alleys and doesn't block the street, and the locals still scream bloody murder.

It seems like a step forward, unless of course you don't like the church's "customers".