A top-ranking District housing official has temporarily denied a Capitol Hill Baptist church permission to demolish two Victorian buildings which it owns to make way for a church addition.

On Friday, deputy housing director James Clay, acting as the city's historic preservation officer, said he delayed the demolition permit requested by the New Samaritan Church to allow the church and opponents of the demolition to continue negotiations aimed at settling the dispute. The buildings are adjacent to the church at 600 and 602 Maryland Ave. NE.

With the 120-day delay, New Samaritan now faces a further complication: Its demolition request is now governed by the city's tough new historic preservation law, which went into effect last Saturday.

Under that law, the mayor, the city's historic preservation officer, can deny demolition permits outright, not simply delay them, unless the owner can show an economic hardship or a compelling public interest favoring demolition.

The church must have city approval to demolish the 88-year-old, three-story red brick buildings because they are located in the Capitol Hill historic district.

Preservation groups such as the Capitol Hill Restoration Society and Don't Tear It Down have opposed the demolitions because they believe the buildings represent some of the finest late Victorian architecture on Capitol Hill.

Both groups have offered to help the church prepare architectural plans that would save the buildings but allow their interior renovation to give the church additional space, Clay said.