SW on District's Shelter Plan: 'What is Going on Here?'

Neighbors Pelt District Officials With Questions

The architect's plan for the SW family homeless shelter at 700 Delaware Ave. SW. (Photo: Christine Rushton)

An April 6 meeting with neighbors of the proposed Ward 6 Southwest family homeless shelter, facilitated by former Councilmember Tommy Wells, descended into an acrimonious melee when residents sought an explanation for the District's selection of the site at 700 Delaware Ave. SW under Mayor Muriel Bowser's Homeward DC initiative to close DC General by 2018..

“We are not here [to pick out] shrubbery, we are here to discuss the plan that no one was told about and was done in secret,” one community member said. “We are all very angry.”

About 50 people gathered in DC police’s First District station at 101 M St. SW for what was advertised as a “design meeting.” Residents and the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6D commissioners present reiterated their support for providing a new transitional space for families in need. However, they remained outraged over the city's site selection process. They questioned whether permission could be secured to build a seven-story building on a parcel zoned for townhouses, a process that may well take longer than Mayor Muriel Bowser’s self-imposed 2018 deadline for closing DC General.

District representatives and the developers' architect Fernando Bonilla used a previously approved, expired Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the site as a blueprint for the project. The earlier PUD predates the recently approved Southwest Small Area Plan, the revision of the city's Comprehensive Plan and the newly published zoning regulations. So its approved massing may no longer be relevant.

The Capitol Park IV condominiums are located adjacent to the shelter site. Capitol Park IV President Bob Hall argued the city's proposal was too massive for the site. “What is going on here?” Hall asked. “Is this an attempt to shoehorn 50 units in?”

In response, The Director of the Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (ICH) Kristy Greenwalt outlined proposed chronology for the project's completion:

  • The April 6th community design meeting;

  • DC City Council vote in early April;

  • PUD Application on May 4;

  • Historic Preservation Review Board on May 25;

  • Finalization of site design and blueprints;

  • Board of Zoning Adjustment Hearing on June 7;

  • Obtain permits and zoning rights;

  • Develop the sites;

  • Draft “good neighbor agreements”;

  • and open the facility in 2018.

Architect Fernando presented the facility's basic floor plans to residents. They included:

  • A main floor with a small kitchen, children’s play areas and a security desk;

  • key card entry and cameras for safety;

  • three to five floors of residential units;

  • a mix of private and shared bathrooms with no more than two families sharing a single facility;

  • a small kitchen on each floor

  • laundry.

ANC 6D(02) Commissioner Stacy Cloyd questioned the quality of these amenities pressing the architect on exterior safety arrangements. Their questions were met vague responses by city officials.

The actual site developer, Donnie Gross of the Varsity Investment Group, remained seated silently in the audience. The city officials did not introduce him.

The city also neglected to invite Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen to the proceedings. Allen received an individual briefing the next day.

“I have felt like throughout it’s been like holding a fist full of sand,” stated Allen told the Hill Rag in a subsequent interview. “It seems it’s always evolving, and that’s really frustrating to me and I know to the community as well.”

“The city, architect and developer need to revise their letter of intent to include a precise explanation of their plans — what Planned Unit Development (PUD) application they want to pursue, what they want to build and how they will engage with community members this time,” Allen said.