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D.C. appeals court clears way for planned homeless shelter in Brookland

A three-judge panel rejects a zoning challenge by neighbors

Preliminary rendering of the Ward 5 homeless shelter
D.C. government

A new family homeless shelter under development in Northeast’s Brookland neighborhood has withstood a lawsuit by neighbors who oppose the project. On July 3, the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld a 2018 zoning order approving the facility by exempting it from usual rules. The shelter is designed to have 46 units and is going up on the site of an ex-police building.

The decision follows an earlier ruling by the court that cleared another family shelter, located in Upper Northwest, for construction. A three-judge panel cited that ruling in vindicating the D.C. zoning board’s order that green-lighted the Brookland shelter. Both facilities are part of the District’s plan to replace the old D.C. General megashelter with a mix of smaller shelters.

“...[W]e now conclude that the [Board of Zoning Adjustment’s, or BZA’s] order granting the requested zoning relief for the Ward 5 shelter was consistent with the governing zoning laws and regulations,” Associate Judge Neal E. Kravitz writes in the decision. “Concluding further that the BZA’s findings of fact underlying its order were supported by substantial evidence in the record, we affirm the BZA’s order granting zoning relief for the Ward 5 shelter.” (Ward 5 is the municipal subdivision that covers much of Northeast, and D.C. has eight wards in all.)

In the appeals court’s decision, the features of the Brookland shelter are described as follows:

“The ground floor of the expanded structure will be dedicated to the provision of wraparound services for shelter residents, and floors two through six will have a total of forty-six DC General Family Shelter replacement units, with eleven units each on floors two and three and eight units each on floors four, five, and six. Maximum total capacity will be 150 beds, with a majority of the residents expected to be children. The residential floors are designed to provide direct lines of sight to the units and common areas to enable parents and security officers to observe activity on the floor. The facility will have a brick exterior meant to blend in with the character of the neighborhood and green space for outdoor recreation for residents. The communications antenna and supporting utility building will be retained on the property but will not be a part of the shelter’s functions.”

Organized as a group called “Citizens for Responsible Options,” (CFRO) the neighbors who submitted the lawsuit contested the shelter’s location, its design specifications, and officials’ process for selecting the site. According to the court’s ruling: “CFRO’s witnesses [in the case] also expressed concern that the shelter and its residents would cause excessive noise, that the building would block sunlight to nearby residences, and that the [facility’s] three off-street parking spaces would be inadequate and would have a negative impact on the availability of on-street parking in the neighborhood.” The site’s address is 1700 Rhode Island Avenue NE.