Yearslong fight over DC homeless shelter back in court

WASHINGTON — A group that has been trying for two years to halt the construction of a six-story homeless shelter in the District was back in court Thursday, arguing its case in front of the D.C. Court of Appeals.

The city plans to build the 50-unit shelter on publicly-owned property next to a D.C. police station on Idaho Avenue, just off Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest.

But the group, comprised of residents and an organization called Neighbors for Responsive Government, claims the community was not given adequate time to weigh in on the plan.

David Brown, an attorney representing the group, told the court that the city council should have explored other options before approving the Idaho Ave site.

“You’re supposed to look to see if there are other reasonable alternatives,” argued Brown. “If the council’s selection of the site is the beginning and the end of the question, then the language in the zoning code really doesn’t mean anything.”

The project is part of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to open short-term homeless shelter units around the city and close the big shelter that is located at the former D.C. General Hospital.

“This was in order to accomplish the city’s goals of creating smaller, more dignified facilities for individuals who are experiencing homelessness,” argued Meridith Moldenhauer, an attorney with the city.

A second lawyer representing the District, Richard Love, told the court that the “project advances a significant and long-recognized public need.”

Before councilmembers approved the site on Idaho Ave., the city did consider a different location on Wisconsin Ave. However, that site would have required the city to sign an expensive lease.

In a statement last year, Councilwoman Mary Cheh said the cost would have been “enormous” as she endorsed the publicly-owned Idaho Ave. location.

“The site is located adjacent to a police station, providing safety to both residents of the shelter and the neighborhood,” said Cheh.

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