A D.C. Superior Court judge issued an emergency order yesterday banning all parking on a dilapidated playing field at Garrison Elementary School in the District's Shaw community, where parents and community activists are battling with school officials over the field's longtime use as a church parking lot.
Judge Ronald Wertheim banned parking on the gravel-filled field for 10 days pending his ruling on whether to issue a permanent restraining order on use of the property. Garrison parents and neighborhood activists went to court to challenge School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's recent renewal of a $5,000 a year parking agreement with Metropolitan Baptist Church, whose members use the lot on Sundays.
The plaintiffs say that permitting parking on the field has damaged it. They want the field restored to playing condition. They are working with developer David Hudgens, who has offered to fix the field at his own expense but said that continued parking there would destroy the grass.
Some of the 5,000 members of Metropolitan Baptist, which is next to Garrison, have been parking about 300 cars on the field on Sundays for more than 10 years. The church's pastor, the Rev. H. Beecher Hicks, refused during the summer to give up the spaces after other parking was located a few blocks away. He did, however, agree to a proposed compromise by Ackerman, who said this week that she wants to use half the field for parking and turn the other half into a ballfield.
"It is obvious that there is no resolution of this matter that can be achieved by compromise," Hicks said yesterday. "The activists . . . are interested only in having their way. They have moved into this community and intend to control it. That's the bottom line. They have no interest in what the church has offered to the school."
Ackerman and other school officials say they want to accommodate the church because it has provided important mentoring and other services to Garrison and other children in the Shaw community. But the superintendent's proposed compromise--which critics assailed as putting the church's parking needs ahead of providing a playing field for the children--prompted yesterday's court challenge.
In a statement issued yesterday, Ackerman said, "The D.C. public schools will continue to work toward a win-win solution for all involved." She was not available for further comment, nor was Deputy Superintendent Elois Brooks.
Glenn Melcher, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member and lawyer who filed the suit on behalf of playground advocates, said, "While the plaintiffs are pleased that the court has seen fit to enforce the law in behalf of the children of Garrison Elementary, we all regret that it has come to this. Mr. Hudgens has made a wonderful offer to give the children a ballfield immediately, and we hope that the school system will now see fit to accept that offer."
D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who earlier had worked to arrange new parking for the church, said the court ruling should be seen as "a clear sign" that all parties must reach an agreement.
"Now we have a judge involved in a playground dispute," he said. "I want to call on Dr. Ackerman and Pastor Hicks and the neighborhood to really commit to a compromise."
Hicks said that congregants who normally park at Garrison will now park on the street, which he said will likely cause residents to "become agitated." Neighbors in the community say the streets already are filled every Sunday with the cars of church members, some of whom, they complained, block private driveways.