The following was written by PoPville contributor David McAuley, founder of Short Articles about Long Meetings.
Photo via Google Street View
If New Bethany Baptist Church (1300 10th Street NW) cannot regain its lost real property tax exemption, it will owe the DC government more than $1 million in taxes. So, the leaders of the church, along with their attorneys, appeared before a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle last night (January 24) to ask the ANC’s support a new real property tax exemption for the church, which has been operating on that location for 84 years.
ANC2F’s Community Development Committee was not inclined to support the request. Members of the committee and the public recalled years of strained relations between the church and the community under the church’s former leadership. The church’s new leader asked the committee to look ahead.
“This is a new day. We want to correct as much as we can,” said Reverend Jesse J. Jackson.
In addition to the church’s main building (which is still exempt from property taxes), the church owns a few lots nearby on 10th and 11th Streets, including one next to the church at the northeast corner of 11th and N Streets.
For many years, these lots were used for non-church related activities, including night-time use by valet parking services of downtown restaurants and bars. (Committee members alleged drug use and prostitution went on in the parking lots during these periods.) Attorney Thorn L. Posen told the ANC that the church still believes the payments from users qualify as “donations” and are not subject to tax. However, tax authorities have disagreed with the church over a process lasting many years, and now the church is facing a tax bill in excess of $1 million dollars.
The $1 million dollar figure was the result of research by a committee member, but the church and its attorneys did not dispute the figure.
The church was the subject of a law passed in 2016 that requires the church to “not accept payment for any motor vehicle to park or to otherwise occupy space on the Property”. Also, the law says: “Within five years of the effective date of this action, New Bethany Baptist Church shall in good faith negotiate an agreement with the Mayor to provide affordable housing on the Property.”
While also lobbying for reinstatement of its property tax exemption, the church is also moving forward on the requirement that it build affordable housing as DC law defines it.
“We are at the very first stages of trying to envision a development plan,” said attorney Warner Sessions.
The church has tentatively chosen a developer, but they do not have a written agreement yet. The church wanted to consult with the community and be completely transparent, they said. Also, the church parking lot is now locked and there is no non-church-related parking taking place on the lot.
Members of the committee praised the new openness but also recalled years of “stonewalling” by the church. Committee members said the church should pay taxes on their income if they operated illegally for many years.
The committee had moved and seconded a motion to oppose the church’s request to the City Council for new legislation exempting the church from real property tax when a neighbor of the church stood up and requested the committee not take such a vote, pending discussions between the church and the neighbors. The motion was withdrawn and no action was taken. The applicants said they would not appear before the full ANC at its next regularly-scheduled meeting on February 7, as previously planned.