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D.C. agrees to cut size of patio at planned family homeless shelter after neighbors complain

The District will also impose other restrictions on the space under a pending settlement

A rendering of the shelter, to be built at 3320 Idaho Ave. NW
D.C. government/Ayers Saint Gross

A new family homeless shelter set to open in Upper Northwest in roughly the next year will have a smaller patio deck for children and their guardians than initially envisioned following a protracted legal fight over plans for the facility. On Wednesday, representatives for the D.C. government signed an agreement stipulating restrictions on the proposed patio, at the behest of Ward 3 neighbors who said they were concerned about possible noise impacts from its use.

Those restrictions include a 20 percent reduction in the patio’s size, to 800 square feet from 1,000 square feet. Additionally, the hours of the deck will be limited to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., the city will install trees and shrubs around the deck to buffer any noise, and flood lights will be prohibited, according to a draft memorandum of understanding submitted to the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA). “Amplified or unreasonably loud music” will also be forbidden.

The mayor’s office and Ward 3 activists forged the main parts of the agreement last month, public records indicate. Mary Cheh, the ward’s councilmember, served as a point of contact between the parties. The 50-unit shelter is to be built on government-owned land, at 3320 Idaho Ave. NW, and adjacent to the D.C. police department’s second district headquarters.

Ward 3 is the District’s most affluent ward, and the shelter is one of several facilities across the city to serve as replacements for D.C. General, the dilapidated former megashelter that Mayor Muriel Bowser shuttered in October. Last year, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 3C and a citizen group called Neighbors for Responsive Government (NRG) filed two separate appeals over designs for the Ward 3 facility with the BZA, after learning that the city wanted changes, including the addition of the patio and a decrease in the building’s massing.

As the Washington City Paper reported, the ANC and NRG complained that the District was avoiding public review of the changes by getting approval from its own zoning administrator instead of the BZA, an independent entity that grants projects exemptions from certain land-use rules. The board decided to consolidate the two appeals because they heavily overlapped.

It held a public hearing on the matter on Jan. 9. Leading up to the event, the ANC, NRG, and the District sought to iron out a settlement over the patio. Representatives for the neighbors consented to dropping the challenge against the design plans, in exchange for the District’s concessions. Angela Bradbery, the ANC commissioner for the single-member district where the shelter site is located, told the BZA that the entire ANC would need to approve the final agreement at its next meeting, on Jan. 23. It had tentatively accepted the terms in December.

The sticking point was that the neighbors wanted these terms incorporated into the BZA’s existing order for the shelter plans while the District preferred to put them in a less formal memorandum of understanding. On Wednesday, Bradbery said the parties had “hashed out language” she thought would “address the issues” related to the proposed patio “and enable us to withdraw the appeal.” “I think we’re very much right at the finish line,” she explained.

A blueprint for the proposed shelter as of July 16, 2018
D.C. government/Ayers Saint Gross

Patricia Wittie, a representative for NRG, told the board that she had signed the settlement on behalf of the group and that the appeal would be withdrawn when the ANC takes action. Meridith Moldenhauer, an attorney representing the District in the case, said D.C.’s general services and human services departments had both signed the agreement. The agencies are responsible for building the homeless shelter and managing its programming, respectively.

In addition to the restrictions on the patio, the draft memorandum of understanding filed with the BZA establishes that any future complaints be directed to the facility’s day-to-day operators, who would have five business days to fix any “noncompliance” with the terms of the settlement. The draft also provides for “dispute resolution” meetings with the District’s human services department and limits the ANC’s and NRG’s ability to challenge the project.

Last October, the D.C. appeals court sided with the District and the BZA in a zoning lawsuit that NRG brought after the board had approved the shelter plans. The court found that the BZA, in rendering its order for the project, had relied on sufficient evidence that the shelter would not negatively affect its surroundings. The challenge followed an earlier civil lawsuit where neighbors griped about the planning process for the shelter. It was dismissed in 2017.