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As part of the plan to replace the decaying D.C. General family homeless shelter, and on the heels of community meetings, the District formally filed designs with zoning officials this week for three new facilities.
The shelters, which would house and offer services to no more than 50 families each, are located in Wards 3, 5, and 6. Two of them—in Northwest and Northeast—have been particularly contentious, with residents having filed lawsuits against D.C. alleging that officials did not properly consult neighborhood commissioners when selecting the sites, all on public land. (The District has moved to dismiss those suits.)
In December, Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s administration held meetings for community input on the proposed facilities in these three wards. Relative to the four other projects in the overall D.C. General closure plan, the D.C. Council chose the sites in Wards 3, 5, and 6 in May to reduce costs.
Below are summaries of the latest details on the proposed shelters submitted to D.C.’s Board of Zoning Adjustment, an independent, semi-judicial body that has set hearings on them for March 1. The board must approve the projects and grant zoning exemptions before construction work can begin. If all goes smoothly, the three shelters will be built by summer 2019, and D.C. General will shutter by 2020.
Ward 3—3320 Idaho Ave. NW
The proposed shelter shares a site with the Metropolitan Police Department’s Second District station, a point of frustration for some Ward 3 neighbors who contend the facility could disrupt police operations (officials unequivocally say it won’t). Designed by architectural firm Ayers Saint Gross, the shelter is to be six stories and sectioned off from the police station and houses to the south with fencing. A new parking deck would be built behind the buildings so officers could continue to park their vehicles on site. A playground for children being served by the shelter would lie between the new shelter project and existing homes.
Ward 5—1700 Rhode Island Ave. NE
Officials plan to locate the Ward 5 family homeless shelter at the former MPD Youth Division building, a structure with historical significance, according to preservationists. Although not a landmark, the now-vacant police station “occupies a prominent position along Rhode Island Ave. NE with a distinctive profile and a brick facade,” the District notes in its filing to BZA. D.C.’s Historic Preservation Review Board would like to see some of these elements on the three-story structure maintained. The property also has a 150-foot communications antenna that will remain operational. The shelter would be six stories, and because the majority of its residents are likely to be children, it would have two outdoor play areas. Designed by R. McGhee and Associates, the facility would hold 46 housing units, given site constraints.
The District is arguing that usual limits on height and size should not apply.
“The strict application of the Zoning Regulations would give rise to a practical difficulty for the [District] as it would not be able to fully carry out its objective of closing [the] D.C. General Family Shelter and addressing homelessness by establishing a new emergency shelter in Ward 5 of the city,” officials note in their application to BZA.
Ward 6—850 Delaware Ave. SW
The Southwest shelter would go up where the United Health Care Center—which serves homeless and low-income people—currently operates. That three-story building would be razed and replaced with a seven-story structure containing both shelter components and, on the cellar level, a health clinic. (These facilities would have separate entrances, the former on Delaware Avenue SW and the latter on I Street.) It has been designed by Studio Twenty Seven Architecture and Leo A Daily. The firms also collaborated on La Casa, a permanent-housing site in Columbia Heights that caters to the chronically homeless.
“The building’s proposed design and massing will fit in with the architecture of the surrounding area and will provide adequate light and air to the building’s residents and to occupants of surrounding properties,” the District says in zoning documents. “As a primarily residential use, the emergency shelter will not produce any adverse impacts due to noise or general operations.”
In June, BZA green-lighted plans for similar shelters in Wards 4 (5505 Fifth St. NW), 7 (5004 D St. SE), and 8 (6th Street and Chesapeake Street SE). Notably, these did not meet the same level of resistance as that seen in other areas of the District. The land needed for the proposed facility in Ward 1 (at 2105-2107 10th St. NW) has been tied up in real estate negotiations. And an all-women’s shelter in Ward 2 that opened before the announcement of the District-wide strategy was included in officials’ plans.