Ebenezer Church Development’s Parking Issues Roil Neighbors at 4th and D Streets, SE
by Larry Janezich
Ebenezer Methodist Church, at 4th and D Streets, is a 179 year old Capitol Hill institution struggling to increase its membership and revenues in order to avoid closing its doors. To that end, the church is developing five new townhouses on property adjacent to the church – currently a playground. The five buildings will mean ten two-bedroom units for tenants, some of whom will bring cars into an already stressed parking situation.
ANCB Chair Chander Jayaraman told Capitol Hill Corner that there is strong emotional support for the church in the community but that the parking concerns are valid. Complicating the matter is the fact that at the church’s request, the city removed the resident only parking (RPP) for the ten spaces on the Church’s side of the 400 block of D Street. Now, anyone – resident of Ward 6 or not – can park as long as they want in those ten spaces.
Capitol Hill resident and church trustee Sam Ford, a 14 year member of the congregation, says Ebenezer is suffering from an aging membership and needs to boost revenues to maintain the church in DC, as well as draw new members in. Ford says, “The church has to find a way to stay open or it will close its doors. Ebenezer is not moving – it will live or die in DC. It is trying to preserve its position in the nation’s capital.”
The townhouses are being built as a matter of right which requires only historic preservation review regarding scale, mass and design.
Neighbors are concerned that the developer hired by the church has failed to reach out to them in a good faith effort to ask for community input. Some of them say that neighbors were not consulted nor were regular channels followed when DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) removed the resident only (RPP) parking signs from D Street. Ordinarily, such a change would have been processed through ANC6B.
In an attempt to address parking concerns, the developer is requesting a curb cut on 5th Street which would remove two parking spaces in order to allow access to a five space parking lot behind the five new townhouses. Jayaraman pointed out that there is no understanding that the additional parking would be for the exclusive use of tenants and that in addition the tenants would be eligible for residential parking permits to park in the neighborhood.
The church entered into a 99 year lease with the developer, apparently necessary in order for the developer to get financing for the project. Neighbors worry that lease was executed before details of sensitive issues such as parking were worked out and that the five parking spaces will inevitably become commercial parking since the developer – rather than the church – will me managing the properties. They cite the practice of the United Methodist Church on Seward Square in renting out its parking spaces on church property.
Ivan Frishberg, a neighbor and former ANC6B Commissioner opined that the project is not inconsistent with historic preservation regarding scale, mass and design. He told the ANC at it’s regular meeting on September 12 that the issue is with a curb cut which will have consequences which change the nature of the block. He and other neighbors strongly oppose the curb cut and urge DDOT to restore residential parking on the block on D Street.
The curb cut can come up again later – the developer had already planned to make the parking area a part of a second Historic Preservation Application.
The architect for the developer is floating the idea of a mechanical car elevator to provide additional parking behind the townhouses, but it seems an unlikely solution given the necessary approvals and opposition from neighbors to a noisy mechanized unit in the center of the block.
ANC6B Commissioner Diane Hoskins moved to support Historic Preservation Application’s concept design and oppose the curb cut and ask DDOT to return resident parking to the 400 block of D Street. The motion was agreed to, 6 – 4.