Battle Lines Drawn on Ebenezer Church Plan for Mechanical Parking Lift
by Larry Janezich
Ebenezer United Methodist Church, the venerable and historic 179 year old institution at 400 D Street, SE, wants to put a 19 car mechanized lift in the middle of a residential block behind the church. The parking is intended to accommodate parishioners and perhaps supplement the five residential surface parking spaces behind the five new two-unit townhouses being built by the church on what is currently its playground. Naturally, some of the neighbors are concerned.
As reported here: http://bit.ly/2htwkxv the church, struggling to increase its membership, is developing five new townhouses on its property to increase revenues to ensure its survival as a religious institution.
The parking issue came before ANC6B Commissioner Nick Burger’s ANC6B Planning and Zoning Committee Tuesday night in the form of a Historical Preservation Application for construction of a brick structure to enclose the lift. Since the church is in the Capitol Hill Historic District, the Historic Preservation Review Board has to approve the design of the structure and relies – under city regulations – on the ANC for advice.
Technically, only the design of the structure was before the Committee, but a substantial number of church neighbors were on hand to claim the opportunity to express a broad range of concerns about the overall project.
The ensuing discussion delineated the battle lines drawn between the supporters and opponents of the plan.
- Some neighbors on D Street support the parking lift, seeing it as a way to relieve the pressure on parking on D Street by church parishioners who attend services and special events at the church.
- Some neighbors on 5th Street oppose interior parking on the block because it would require a curb cut on C Street for access, eliminating one or two street parking spaces, and – like every curb cut – raises safety issues with 25 cars coming and going on a regular basis, as well as decreasing the walkability of the urban environment.
- Residents whose backyards back-up to the 13 foot tall structure with a combined length of 60 feet are opposed because of the loss of aesthetics to their backyards.
- ANC6B Commissioner Jennifer Samolyk: “I’m having a hard time coming to grips with the underlying fact that this is a parking garage in the middle of a residential area. What’s to stop ten other churches on Capitol Hill from doing the same? This is a bad precedent.”
- Real estate broker Chuck Burger: “Nineteen additional parking spaces will not make a difference to the survival of the church. I’m concerned about the commercial potential. The church wants to create event space and a museum and is letting out space to other churches. This development deflates the value of a number of residential properties…but it increases the market value of the church. Property appreciation accrues to only one party. It accelerates the possibility that the church will become condos”.
Well-connected and mild-mannered architect Ronnie McGhee’s response to the points raised by the opponents of the project was simple: “There are interior parking spaces all over the city and disruption is a common feature. Historic Preservation supports the lift as a way to increase parking.”
Citing the need for more information regarding potential noise and more detailed elevations, the Committee voted to take “No Position” by a vote of 5 – 0, bucking the question up to the full ANC6 at its January meeting.
Creating a curb cut – especially in a historic district is routinely resisted by the Department of Transportation (DDOT). Exceptions are made, however, where there is no alternative way to access on-site parking or a loading dock via the alley. If the structure is approved by Historic Preservation, the church will have to come back to ANC6B with a DDOT Public Space Application for the curb cut and spark a second look by the Historic Preservation Review Board.
The full ANC6B will consider the question during its monthly meeting on January 9, at 7:00pm, at Hill Center.