Dear PoP – Storefront Church Issues

Greater Mt. Carmel House of Prayer
Photo by PoPville flickr user dullshick

Ed. Note: The photo above is not the Church in question but an example of a “storefront” Church.

“Dear PoP,

I live in Columbia Heights and have been dealing with an ongoing issue with a “church” across the street from my place. There are days that this “church” seems to be open 24/7. I believe that the “church” is legit, in that it is not a front for any shady activity, but I don’t believe the space is zoned for this use (maybe I’m wrong about zoning laws). There are several problems that the “church” is causing….like:

1. very loud speakers (I can hear their prayers and/or music clearly from my living room, there are times when they are having services @ 11pm)
2. Trash from the parishioners
3. Illegal parking by the parishioners
4. Funerals that go until 4am and draw large crowds (100 plus) and since the space isn’t large enough, the crowd flows into the streets….this leads to public urination, drinking beer, trash, traffic congestion, etc.

I have called the police several times and they can’t or don’t want to do anything about the “church.” I’m not sure what I my next steps should be. The police aren’t helpful at all.”

Whenever I see questions like this, I always think a little communication would go a long way. I think you should contact your Council Member’s staff and see if they can help set up a meeting to discuss some of the issues you have. I would guess that open communication would lead to some sort of compromise.

But just out of curiosity, does anyone know how the storefront churches are zoned?

45 Comment

  • Can we stop with the obligatory “respect” given to people as “parishioners” just because they hide their medieval ignorance behind a cross?

    If they are in a residential neighborhood call the cops. If they doublepark call the cops.

    At the very least blast marylin manson at full blast just to see how quickly the cops will come to enforce the double standard.

  • sounds like a good time.

  • These Houses of Wretchedness ought be burnt; for they are a Nuisance that reasonable Men cannot tolerate. Zone not thine Churches in Columbia Heights; for they belong in Anacostia, where silly Men pray to the Christian and Mohammedian Deities.

    Park thine horseless Carriages elsewhere, Christian men. And stay off my lawn.

  • Why not just talk to someone at the Church – explain your issues, give them a copy of the relevant city codes that cover noise and open a dialogue.
    I’d bet if you reached out to them and explained your concerns/issues and give them the chance to remedy the situation and contact you if they may disrupt you then this may not be an issue. If they disregard you – then you have the material to elevate the matter to your council rep.

    since its a store front church they can’t claim to have been their first and allowed certain rights/privelages.

  • Very interesting “writing” style.

  • There is ABSOLUTELY now way MPD, DCRA or any other DC gov agency will take any real enforcement action against a [christian] church. It just won’t happen. It would also be political suicide for any elected official who tried anything to sanction a church. Just wait until the next election – churches are going to have a field day using who voted for and against the marriage equality bill in their campaigning.

    • I agree with Ontarioroader here. MPD isn’t doing anything because (aside from their usual reluctance to do their jobs) they know the moment they try, the pastor will cry to city hall and MPD will be called on the carpet for “harassing” these Christians (remember, Christians are the most persecuted people in the world, in their own minds).

      Your best bet is to fight fire with fire as Anon suggested with the Manson music. Do that, or move, but you’re just going to frustrate yourself to no end if you really try to get a church or the cops to do the right thing. It’s just not their style–either entity.

      • Actually sonic warfare’s not a bad idea. A buddy in FBI said they played Nine Inch Nails out of giant speakers in an attempt to sleep-deprive David Koresh and his Waco wackos during the siege.

  • I don’t know what basis the author has for supposing that the church is violating a zoning regulation. Churches are a matter of right use in every residential and commercial zone district. The only exception I am aware of is that new churches must obtain special exception approval from the Board of Zoning Adjustment if they are located in the 16th Street Heights Overlay area, which does not include Columbia Heights.

  • Not much is done by MPD and DCRA because it’s a 1st Amendment-related complaint waiting to happen.

  • This doesn’t happen to be at Holmead & Otis does it? I have often walked by there in the evening and heard really loud music, and people practicing really badly at other times when there don’t seem to be services going on.

  • Do the parishioners live in the neighborhood? My bet is “no.”

  • wow… the anti-christian rhetoric from a bunch of you is pretty harsh.

    some pretty bigoted statements from people who probably think of themselves as being open-minded.

    • when jesus worshippers dominate the culture and the neighborhood and political discourse (yet still tax-exempt), it’s absolutely proper to remind these people that they aren’t the only game in town. Hard to get along when a segment of the neighborhood feels it walks on water.

      … as for those who DO speak against all this being “bigoted,” I’d say the cult of jesus has a pretty good lock on that.

      … don’t mind me, boss, just judgin’ that tree by the self-righteous fruit it bears.

      • Well put. +1

      • got it… you hate christians. lets move on.

      • The tax exempt part is what makes me mad. Churches like this use way more city resources than if a normal individual. And if it were store front, DC would be collecting taxes on the sale of goods as well as property tax. As it is now, these places just take without giving back to the community.

      • Your comments are every bit as bigoted and closed-minded as some of the “jesus worshippers” you describe.

      • @IntangibleArts Why do I have the sneaking suspicion that you wouldn’t dare make the same sort of comments about Jews or Muslims, etc.?

    • Open minded doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice rationality and tolerate superstition. If you think it does than I have a magic potion to sell you.. hey, just be open minded about it!

  • I’m also curious with Jamie whether this is the church at Holmead & Otis. If so, I am sympathetic to the letter-writer – I’ve walked by that church a couple times in the evening and have heard VERY loud services (using speakers) and have also seen crowds out on the streets.

    If this were a pub the ANC would be all over them; I don’t see why you should get a free pass on noise ordinances just because you’re worshipping God. The 1st Amenedment doesn’t protect the right to be a nuisance to your neighbors.

    • oh really? in the middle of a bustling city you heard loud music coming over speakers (gasp!) and crowds on the street??? wow!! what a nuisance. how did you walk by that successfully?

      • The services were loud enough that I imagined neighbors would be able to hear them from inside their houses, which really not the case with any of the neighborhood establishments that have outdoor seating (e.g. Room 11, Wonderland, Red Rocks), yet those businesses must jump through many hoops and follow the laws – I don’t see why churches should be held to a different standard.

      • TonyS, you are missing the point. Neither myself nor LJ said we were bothered by the activities while walking by. But this church is on a corner, is attached to two residences, and is within 50 feet of at least a dozen single family homes.

        I’ve walked by at 10 PM and it’s been loud enough to hear a block away. While I don’t really care about this as a passerby, any more than I care about a house party as a passerby, if I lived right next to them and had to endure it all the time, well yes. It would be a very serious concern – no different than having a bunch of frat boys who party at all hours in the house next door.

        I don’t care what anyone does in their home, whether it’s worshipping or getting wasted. But if the effect of either activity is keeping me awake when I’m trying to sleep, because it’s way too late for that kind of noise, then it’s a problem.

        The police would absolutely bust a party that was making as much noise. Why should people be allowed to be obnoxious under one label but not another?

  • I don’t know about DC zoning law, and am not providing any legal advice, but I thought I’d point out that there is a federal law that says:

    “No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or institution—

    (A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and

    (B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

  • Not sure what you’re arguing? Are you saying that asking someone not to play crazy-loud music after midnight and asking them not to relieve themself all over your street or litter their empties all over the street is placing a substantial burden on their religious practices?

    I think people are getting too hung up on the zoning question (which the writer freely admitted was not their forte and might not even have been the correct issue to address) and not focusing on the real problems the writer pointed out: the noise, the double-parking, the litter, and the public urination. Think for a moment if the same complaints were made against a local bar. Nobody would hesitate to say \shut them down,\ but the second you throw religion into the mix you’re called a bigot for wanting a little peace and quiet and for asking the cops to enforce very reasonable restrictions on noise. This kind of hypocrisy is why I left my church.

    • The author’s use of quotes around the word church reveals a bit of a bias. I live right around the corner and I’ll say that all this is a bit of an exaggeration. Churches and public urination usually don’t go hand-in-hand, and this one is no exception.

      Just go talk to the “church” leaders if you dare and ask them for some of that Christian compassion.

      Frankly, this church is much less disturbing than the Mormon church on Holmead. I walked by there last week and a couple of Aryan-looking, well-dressed boys said hello to me. Freaked me the F out.

      • I disagree. I read the quotes around the word “church” as an attempt to differentiate it from the image of a free-standing church building conjured up when most people think of a church.

        Further, the writer’s declaration that s/he believes the church to be legitimate and not a front for nefarious activities puts a hole in that theory.

      • Ohhhh, “Aryan-looking” hmmm… Sounds like a hater to me.

        Church’s need to obey the same laws as the homeowners – period! I would call, and call, and call. Someone will get your message eventually.

        Maybe call your council member late at night, stick your phone out the window. Leave him/her a recording of the loud music everyday and night. End the message with date and time.

        And the people by the river said, AMEN!

  • i want to jump on the church bashing bandwagon.
    i saw a very nice Mercedes with a dc license plate – “revsmom”. which i took to mean reverend’s mom. now who’s money do you think went to buy that car? probably the parishes. a fool and his money are easily parted.

  • Is this “church” located at the SE corner of 14 and Newton? It is so difficult to find parking most evenings because of that church/restaurant as most parishioners are from MD in their SUVs double park, block the alley, and of course the occasionally loud speaker service on early AM.

  • RLUIPA is right. Churches get a pass when it comes to zoning. If music being loud is part of their worship belief they get to do it. If a church member goes outside to whiz on the sidewalk, he’s not really in church anymore is he? The government can’t control what goes on in the church, but it can control how people act in public.

  • There are a lot of these little storefront churches in DC and I gotta say, never buy near one if you value your Sunday morning sleep-ins.

    I would ask: was the church there first? So wouldn’t it be a good idea to talk to the pastor?

    As an aside, my most favorite of the storefronts is Tried Stone Fire-Baptized Holiness Church. What a name!

  • what is up with the pissing thing? seriously… its like the OP just made something up and now everyone is all “YEAH, THEY PISS EVERYWHERE!” “YEAH I HATE THOSE PARISHIONERS PISSING ON THE SIDEWALK AFTER CHURCH IN THEIR CHURCH CLOTHES” hahaha! what is that!

    if you live in columbia heights and you cant handle some pissing in public, your gonna have a tough time. my house is literally a urinal… it pisses me off but its almost worth it when i yell at them and they look all embarrassed with their jazz hose in their hand!

  • i always love to watch the kids playing soccer outside the church on 14th and newton. i wonder if they ever have real church services…

  • Ummmm…HELLO(!)…been waiting for this one.

    Soooo, starting in September 2009 my NEXT DOOR NEIGHBORS have been hosting a church/’revival meeting’…in their living room…on a residential street…in the rowhouse next to mine…EVERY SUNDAY! Complete with a preacher, AMPLIFIED testifying, clapping and shouting, a keyboardist, a drummer – all beginning at approximately 11am until about 1-1:30pm. I can hear every syllable and every note. Loud and clear. Don’t even need to get outta bed. To tell the truth i’ve been a bit perplexed by what to do about this one because 1) I seldom (read: never) go to church (and I do a lot of sinnin’ during the week), 2) I should already be outta the bed to catch to first showing of Meet the Press (it’s the geek in me) and 3) how in the bejesus do you even begin the complaint process? I guess what gets me is the sheer audacity of the move! Unfukingbelieveable! So, POP fans…need a little salvation? Head on over to the NEW Bloomingdale Church of St. Mattress (on S street). Might as well even double park — it’s the only thing they’ve yet to do!!!

  • the union ? ugh. maybe ask them to not use an amplifier since its a rowhouse. i bet thats as much as you can do.
    if that doesnt work, fight sonic blast with sonic blast.

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