The site of the proposed homeless shelter at 3320 Idaho Ave. NW. It already hosts the Metropolitan Police Department's Second District station.
The site of the proposed homeless shelter at 3320 Idaho Ave. NW. It already hosts the Metropolitan Police Department's Second District station. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The city’s plans to close the ailing D.C. General family homeless shelter are again facing organized resistance.

Last week, two dozen neighbors of the site of a proposed 50-unit shelter in Ward 3—the District’s most affluent ward—and a related group called Neighbors for Responsive Government filed a challenge in the D.C. Court of Appeals against an April decision that made way for construction on the facility to begin this November and be completed in 2019.

But now the shelter could take even longer to build, potentially further delaying the shuttering of D.C. General, which is anticipated for early 2020. Zoning appeals often take months to resolve and have recently led to the deferral of thousands of new residential units opening throughout the District, including affordable housing.

The appeal comes after a D.C. Superior Court judge in February threw out a lawsuit that the residents had filed over the proposal, in which they alleged that city officials did not give them a fair opportunity to weigh in on the selected site. Located at 3320 Idaho Ave. NW, the site currently features the Metropolitan Police Department’s Second District station and would require an above-ground parking garage for officers’ cars if the shelter is built.

The residents appear prepared to maintain their arguments over process, having insisted that their unrelenting opposition to the facility has nothing to do with the fact that it would house homeless families. Rather, they say, the local advisory neighborhood commission was not properly alerted to the plans, which changed from when Mayor Muriel Bowser announced them in February 2016 to when the D.C. Council approved them that spring.

In an email, David Brown, an attorney for the neighbors, points to closing arguments he made earlier this year in the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment case on the proposal. They include that the project is inconsistent with the District’s Comprehensive Plan for development, that the city did not sufficiently show there were no tenable alternatives for the site or the shelter’s size, and that it would worsen quality of life issues like noise and traffic.

“[The building would be] entirely out of scale with the neighborhood: it is too tall, too dense, and would have material adverse impacts on the neighborhood,” Brown argued to the BZA. He writes that when the residents file a brief with the court, they’ll detail what they consider “the most compelling reasons” to deny the zoning approval.

In a statement, the D.C. Department of Human Services, which manages District shelters, says it’s committed to providing replacement housing for the homeless families who will eventually have to relocate from D.C. General.

“We rest assured that we have met all zoning requirements to construct the units,” DHS says. “We plan to proceed with a phased development plan. And we are looking forward to being a city where every family can have a safe and comfortable roof over their heads every night.”

The city has advanced plans for new shelters in other wards, though some are proceeding more smoothly than others. In July, the Bowser administration broke ground on a 45-unit family homeless shelter project in Ward 4 and marked another step toward shutting down D.C. General, from which then-8-year-old Relisha Rudd vanished in 2014. But a shelter in Ward 1 hasn’t moved forward because D.C. doesn’t own the land where it planned to build the shelter, with the landowner holding out for a high price.

A shelter planned in Ward 5, on Rhode Island Avenue NE, has also seen delays. Some neighbors and a group named Citizens for Responsible Options sued the District over those plans, and Brown served as their attorney.

In March, another D.C. Superior Court judge dismissed this litigation as well. But the BZA has not yet issued a written order green-lighting the city’s plans for the Ward 5 shelter, and residents could still appeal the decision.

Brown says he will discuss “the issue of appeal” once that order comes down, but adds that he “cannot predict the outcome of those discussions at this juncture.” As of today, the Ward 5 shelter is expected to debut in 2019.

More than 250 homeless families sleep at D.C. General. Hundreds more are residing in hotels, which costs the District tens of thousands of dollars each night.