A bitter dispute over church use of a school field for parking escalated yesterday when D.C. School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman announced that she had resolved the quarrel--infuriating neighborhood activists, who served notice that they are going to court today to stop the church from using the property.
The playing field at Garrison Elementary School in Northwest Washington's Shaw community for years has been used for parking on Sundays by worshipers at Metropolitan Baptist Church. But parents and others say the cars have made the field unusable, forcing Garrison teams to be bused elsewhere.
Developer David Hudgens has offered to restore the field to playing condition at his expense and has set a deadline of tomorrow as the latest he can begin the work. Last week, however, the school system renewed its $5,000-a-year parking agreement with the church.
Ackerman, in a statement touting "a win-win solution," said she had asked her staff to develop plans to turn the land into a softball and baseball field, with a separate, smaller area for multipurpose parking for school, church and community events. She said she would resod the field at nearby Shaw Junior High School for soccer games.
Her announcement angered several neighborhood groups, who said the community does not support the proposed compromise.
"It's 100 percent unacceptable to have parking on this playing field, period," said Buck Clarke, president of the Cardozo-Shaw Neighborhood Association. "I don't see how she can continue to try and rationalize this church parking there. It does not serve the children. It does not serve the community."
The Rev. H. Beecher Hicks, pastor at 135-year-old Metropolitan Baptist, said he accepts Ackerman's plan, even though it will mean fewer parking spaces on Sunday. He said his church has been a powerful force in helping the community over many years.
"What I'm concerned about is that those who are concerned about the parking area and the playground have not themselves exhibited a similar kind of community spirit," he said. "There is a lot of talk about what the children need, but not very much action when it comes to doing for the children other than parading for the public."
Longtime community activists said use of the field is one of several points of tension between Metropolitan and neighborhood residents, who oppose a church plan to raze some turn-of-the century town houses in a designated historic district.
Glenn Melcher, a lawyer and a member of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said yesterday that he had given Ackerman the legally required 24 hours notice that he would ask a federal judge today to issue a temporary restraining order against the church's use of the property.
"In an urban environment, it is absolutely a crime to take an inch of green space away from children," he said.
Deputy School Superintendent Elois Brooks said this week that Ackerman renewed the parking agreement because the mentoring and other help the church gives Garrison children are more important than a playing field. She also said she feared the church might leave the city if the parking were eliminated, though Hicks said yesterday that he would not make that statement.
CAPTION: A compromise with Metropolitan Baptist Church announced by School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman did not satisfy Shaw residents.