Monday, December 12, 2005

The streets around several Northwest churches turn into virtual parking lots on Sunday mornings, and rows of illegally parked cars that create a weekly gridlock has many residents of the gentrifying neighborhood fuming.

Weary of finding their cars blocked in, residents are voicing their anger. They say churchgoers parked illegally with license plates outside the District are left alone, even as neighborhood residents are given citations.

“D.C. code specifically states double-parking is illegal at all times,” said Todd Lovinger, 39, who lives near Vermont Avenue Baptist Church and has organized a group of citizens against the churches. “But the police have a policy that they will ignore it when it comes to churches.”

“There’s a lot more to this situation,” said Jeff Jetton, 29, whose car was blocked in by a double-parker in front of Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in Northwest on Sunday morning. “It’s a lot deeper than the parking issue. It goes into gentrification and the history of this community.”

Church officials say parishioners traditionally have been allowed to park illegally because police give “special courtesies” to the churches.

Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, founded 150 years ago, attracts more than 1,500 parishioners to its 1630 Vermont Ave. NW building each Sunday. Officials said their parishioners have double-parked in front of the church since the 1930s.

Parking has emerged as a serious issue since the mostly black congregation began moving out of the District and into suburban Maryland and Virginia about 15 years ago, said Ron Davis, 70, chairman of the church’s board of trustees.

“Most of black churches’ members are leaving the city,” he said. “A lot of this issue becomes a real battle for the people that are moving in, who don’t go to these churches.”

The parking problem spans the block in front of the Vermont Avenue church, residents said, and into the streets around three nearby churches: Metropolitan Baptist Church, Lincoln Congregational Temple United Church of Christ and Tenth Street Baptist Church.

D.C. parking laws are enforced by the Department of Public Works (DPW) throughout the workweek and by the Metropolitan Police Department on the weekend, said Mary Myers, a spokeswoman for DPW. Although parking is supposed to be enforced evenly, she said, churches often are allowed leeway.

“I think overall there are technically no special concessions given to churches,” Miss Myers said. “However, unless the parking infraction is particularly grievous … it’s been the practice of law enforcement to simply allow certain kinds of questionable parking. You can see it any given Sunday: There’s double-parking, and it’s allowed, or [rules] are not strictly enforced by the police.”

On Sunday, at least two police cruisers patrolled the area around Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, where more than 30 cars, most belonging to church members, were double-parked. Neither of the units stopped to issue tickets.

Some neighbors said the problem would not be so serious if warning signs were posted.

“Good signage is probably the solution,” said Mike Brogan, 41, a Logan Circle resident whose car was blocked in for several hours. “If I had known I would be double-parked in, I wouldn’t have parked here to start with.”

Officials with the Metropolitan Police Department did not return calls for comment.

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