Israel Baptist Church Undergoes Major Expansion

NE DC Church Construction Spiltting Neighborhood

Israel Baptist Church, a 130-year-old church located in Northeast Washington, is undergoing two major construction projects this year.

In February, the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) allowed the church to continue with its plans for expansion with a 42,000 sq. ft. “life learning center” located at 1251 Saratoga Ave. NE. The center, under the church’s non-profit Israel Manor, Inc. (IMI), will be called IMI Life Learning Center. Reports say that the center will be three levels, dedicating the first two floors to Unity Health Care. The third level will be used for office space and a multipurpose room open to the community for sporting events and other programs.

The center will cost between $16 million and $18 million dollars. Some of the cost was already covered in pre-development funding and a $2.5 million dollar loan from D.C. Housing and Community Development.

Aside from the center, the BZA also permitted the church to expand its parking lot to a maximum of 82 spaces, even though D.C. regulations require them to have 136 spaces. The church currently has only 35, but plans to use an empty space on the west side of the church near the roundabout on Brentwood Road NE.

The Rev. Dr. Morris L. Shearin, senior pastor of Israel Baptist Church and CEO of IMI, says that the church started construction in January, but the March snowfalls caused delays.

Some residents in the neighborhood do not agree with the church’s plans for expansion. James Haskins, who owns a home on 12th Street NE, wrote a letter to the BZA, asking the board to reconsider its decision. “This section of 12th Street is surrounded by three large churches with insufficient parking for their members,” Haskins wrote. “Whenever one or all have activities, our little section of 12th Street is overwhelmed with church members parking and traveling through the community.”

Sterling Frazier, president of the Brentwood Community Association, argued that the Rev. Shearin doesn’t care about the community that’s right across the street. “He doesn’t realize that the residents don’t have enough parking for what he’s building,” said Frazier. “The parking is the biggest issue with us. This family life center will cost us our residential parking. People already come back from church on Sundays with no space to park, now it’ll be all week.”

 Frazier also mentioned that it would be pointless to put a healthcare center in an area of retired residents who already have private healthcare. “It has to be about greed and money,” Frazier said.

Rev. Shearin disagrees with Frazier. He told the blog The Capital News that “our church has been serving the greater Ward 5 community by holding various community health screenings throughout the year. So it has always been our church’s mission to serve our community I the health-related field.”

Other residents think the expansion is a wonderful idea.

Terry Thomas, 56, said that the project would provide a positive impact on the community. “People need healthcare,” said Thomas. “This is an older area and people need help. Mayors are always skipping over the middle wards and going straight for wards like 7, 8, 1 and 2. It’s great that someone’s finally doing something for themselves.”

Lloyd Jordan, chairman of the Board of Zoning Adjustment, said that the new center would not negatively affect the community. Also, both the D.C. Department of Transportation and D.C. Office of Planning agree with Jordan.