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Church Ends Dispute Over SE Gas Station

Worshipers to Use Site for Parking

By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 10, 2005; Page DZ03

A months-long dispute over a developer's plans to build a gas station at Massachusetts and Alabama avenues in Southeast has ended with the purchase of the site by a nearby church.

New Macedonia Baptist Church bought the half-acre property from Petroleum Marketing Group for $550,000 and intends to use it for parking, according to the church's senior pastor, the Rev. Patrick Walker.

ANC member Johnnie Scott Rice, shown in a 2003 photograph, said of the proposed gas station, "We don't want this in our community." (Juana Arias -- The Washington Post)

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"By purchasing this property, that ensures that we'll have parking for future growth and development," said Walker, noting that many District churches with plans to expand have had to move to the suburbs because there is little space for parking in the city.

Residents of the Fort Davis and Fort Dupont communities had joined forces with local ANC commissioners, environmental groups and area churches to oppose construction of the Citgo gas station, according to Johnnie Scott Rice, vice chairman of ANC 7E.

"We got every ANC in Ward 7 to support us," Rice said. "We have a very quiet residential community. We don't want this in our community, and we're not going to have it."

Rice said residents feared hazardous gasoline leaks, such as one in 2001 of 1,400 gallons of gasoline from another neighborhood service station that caused the evacuation of 16 families.

They also were concerned, Rice added, that the station might sell illegal drug paraphernalia, such as pipes and the super-sized cigarette lighters favored by drug users.

PMG president Hossein Ejtemai denied that the proposed station, which also would have had a Baskin Robbins and a Dunkin Donuts, would have sold anything illegal.

"That's absolutely ridiculous . . . the most nonsense I have heard," he said of the accusation. "It's absolutely wrong."

He said residents are welcome to visit his company's other five gas stations in the city and see the inventories for themselves.

Ejtemai said the company "tried to work out a covenant with the neighborhood to know what they wanted to see there." But, he added, "we don't want to impose ourselves."

He said that "for many years" New Macedonia Baptist "wanted to buy this property and they did it."

The developer said his company, which has offices near Annapolis and in Fairfax County, has built Baskin Robbins and Dunkin Donuts stores on Rhode Island Avenue NE that have yet to open, and "the neighbors love" the project.

In addition, "we're building a training center for Dunkin Donuts" on Kenilworth Avenue, Ejtemai said. "We're creating jobs, improving certain areas."

Walker said that New Macedonia Baptist, which is more than 45 years old and has been at its current location for 30 years, had "stood with the community to oppose the gas station" out of concerns about traffic and "quality of life."

He said his church first made an offer to buy the property in late summer after a "stalemate" developed in the developer's dispute with the neighborhood. The church made the purchase on Dec. 27.

The pastor said his 1,539-member congregation bought the property with cash that was raised through "good stewardship."

Rice called the outcome a victory for residents of Southeast. "People think we're all ignorant and that we don't take care of our properties," she said, but "we're going to make sure nothing comes into our neighborhood that is not healthy for us. . . . These developers have to know: East of the river is not taking this anymore."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company