Monday, April 24, 2006

D.C. officials said yesterday that they will delay the enforcement of double-parking laws near churches on Sundays until at least late August.

Bishop Michael Kelsey of New Samaritan Baptist Church, chairman of Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ Interfaith Council, announced the change at a rally in Logan Circle, where more than 1,000 clergy members and churchgoers were protesting earlier enforcement deadlines.

Mr. Kelsey said the mayor will appoint a task force of residents, city officials and church and community leaders to discuss solutions to the parking shortages near city churches.

The District last week set a deadline of May 21 for Logan Circle and July 1 citywide. Mr. Williams said Wednesday that he had no plans to push back the deadlines further.

Williams spokesman Vincent Morris late yesterday confirmed the mayor’s decision to postpone the deadline and his plans for the task force, which could help strike a compromise between residents whose vehicles are frequently blocked on Sundays and churchgoers who face limited parking.

“The mayor feels that with hard work and creativity, we can work out a compromise that satisfies churches and neighborhoods,” Mr. Morris said.

Double-parking is illegal in the District, but churchgoers have been ignoring the law on Sundays for at least 30 years. The Metropolitan Police Department, which is responsible for parking patrols on the weekends, has not been issuing tickets to violators.

Double-parking carries a $50 fine.

City officials attempted to resolve the citywide problem first in Logan Circle because of the large number of churches in the Northwest neighborhood and the strained relationship between longtime churchgoers and residents, many of them new to the community.

Officials are adding 77 permanent and 78 Sunday-only parking spaces by reconfiguring markings and allowing parking next to medians.

About 40 D.C. clergy members attended the rally. Parishioners were shuttled to the event in church vans and rented tour buses.

“We won’t allow the pharaohs of the nation’s capital to impose parking restrictions,” said E. Gail Anderson Holness, an elder at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Northwest. “It burdens people to impose parking restrictions.”

Others said opposition to double-parking on Sundays is an attempt to push the churches out of the District.

“I find it incredibly hard to believe that any thinking person would purchase a home near a church and think that they can dictate changes,” said Chuck Half, 59, a D.C. resident who attends Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest. “They are trying to force the churches out.”

Jared Leland, a lawyer with the Becket Fund, said the organization plans to oppose the parking enforcement on legal grounds.

“The law shouldn’t be applied in a way that unfairly burdens churches,” he said. “This double-parking law is unconstitutional because it puts an unfair burden on the religious institution.”

Todd Lovinger, a Logan Circle resident and lawyer who helped pressure the city to enforce the law, said last week that if the city delays enforcement any longer, he will form a coalition of neighborhood officials, business leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union to bring a lawsuit against the city for giving preference to churches and enforcing the law arbitrarily.

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